Asthma apps proliferate for the right reasons

By Neil Versel
02:37 am

Neil_Versel_LargeAsthmapolis. Asthma Journal. AsthmaMD. GlaxoSmithKline's MyAsthma. AsthmaSense and AirSonea, both from iSonea. T-Haler. CitiSense. WeatherMD. iBiomed. Healthanywhere. SMS-based Asthma Signals.

Those are just the asthma-related mobile apps and wireless devices MobiHealthNews has written about. Check Google Play and you'll find nearly 250 Android apps for learning about, treating, tracking and living with the chronic respiratory disease. And there are more on the way.

Sure, there are more than 1,000 available for diabetes, even though the two diseases have pretty much the same prevalence in the U.S. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 25 million Americans, or 8 percent of the population, had asthma in 2009. About the same number had diabetes, the CDC says, and 7 million of those people do not even know they have diabetes.

Diabetes might get more attention from the mobile health community because of the cost it extracts from society. That disease cost $174 billion for treatment and in lost productivity and premature death in 2007, while asthma carried a national price tag of $56 billion that year, according to the CDC.

Still, $56 billion is a lot of money, so the development rightly continues.

IMS Health is putting its Allergy Alert app into Ford vehicles, and WellDoc has been testing its own offering with Ford Motor Co. RTI International and Virginia Commonwealth University are developing and testing BreathEasy with the help of a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation grant. Massive Health is looking at asthma as well, though that well-funded and publicized company has been pretty quiet this year.

MobiHealthNews reported this month that AT&T is building its own sensor to measure pollutants that could trigger asthma attacks and warn people about poor air quality. Outside the Health 2.0 Conference in San Francisco in October, I got a demo of AsthmaWin, a disease management app with a gaming element, from Jeffrey Cooper, CEO of Bowie, Md.-based small business CooperSoft.

Since then, we have learned from MiBiz that Grand Rapids, Mich., entrepreneur Keith Brophy and his latest company, Ideomed has developed an app called Abriiz that focuses on treatment and prevention of asthma in children.

Working with the Asthma & Allergy Association of Michigan and Grand Rapids-based integrated delivery system Spectrum Health, Ideomed has just wrapped up a 31-week clinical trial in rural Georgia and has another trial underway in its home state. A third test involving 60 children with severe asthma will start next year, MiBiz reports.

This is all good news because the evidence base is lacking on whether asthma apps in general are effective, according to a June report from the New England Health Institute.

Ideomed is trialing its app in rural and urban environments, in both cold and warm climates. Cooper, an African-American, is looking at the general population, but knows that asthma disproportionately affects minority communities.

In 2009, Dr. Eric Topol listed asthma among his top 10 targets for wireless medicine. Good thing so many companies were listening.

Unlike a multitude of "health" apps meant to appeal to fitness buffs or simply aficionados of eye candy, these products address treatment and management of a debilitating, expensive chronic disease. Quite a few warn users of potential air quality hazards that could set off asthma attacks and other respiratory conditions that otherwise might land people in the hospital.

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