Putting patients in control of their asthma

DIAGNOSTICS A wireless lung function meter and smartphone app is making life easier for many asthma sufferers. The idea was born in a clinic at Astrid Lindgren Children’s Hospital and now the popular solution is spreading throughout Sweden.

The number of asthmatics in Sweden is growing. Today, approximately 5−10 per cent of children and young people have the condition, and among adults that proportion is around 6−10 per cent. Asthma is a variable illness where patients themselves need to adapt their treatment effectively on a daily basis depending on how they feel. This means that patients need to know what they are doing and have regular contact with their healthcare provider.

Henrik Ljungberg is a pediatric pulmonologist at Astrid Lindgren Children’s Hospital. He had become frustrated that time spent with asthma patients was insufficient to provide them with the support and information they needed.

“There are plenty of good asthma treatments, but it’s difficult to communicate information about them to patients. We often only meet for half an hour at a time which just isn’t long enough. There’s a gap between international guidelines and patient care,” says Henrik.

When they get home, patients only recall a fraction of what they’ve been told during a consultation.

Making life simple

When he found that a new, simple lung function meter could be integrated with a smartphone, he immediately saw how it could simplify life for his patients. He shared his discovery with pediatrician Björn Nordlund. Together, they developed a digital solution that gives patients control over their condition: AsthmaTuner.

“We offer a self test for patients with an automated connection to individual treatment recommendations that doctors and nurses have drawn up,” says Björn.

Once the patient has completed their self test by responding to questions about their symptoms and blown into a lung capacity meter, the drugs that they need to take are displayed in their smartphone. They can also keep track of their own values and set reminders for follow-up treatments. This information can be shared with the prescribing doctor.

“We must communicate knowledge more effectively and update it over time, and smartphones are the best tool to do this. If we send some of this information to patients’ smartphones, we can focus on other things when we actually meet patients,” says Henrik.

Henrik talks about meetings with young people who, after using AsthmaTuner, have understood how good they can feel with the right treatment.

“When they have deeper understanding and better treatment, they enjoy greater freedom and can, for example, exercise with friends. Emotional stories often give us the motivation to continue working,” he says.

The solution also gives worried parents the opportunity to follow their children’s treatment via their own login.

“When you can track how your child’s doing and can support treatment, this eases stress you may feel as a parent. It gives you more certainty on a day-to-day basis.” Björn adds.

Available on prescription

Today, children and young people under the age of 18 can get AsthmaTuner on prescription in most of Sweden’s regions, and it is available like any other medicine at a pharmacy. The next step is to also offer adults the same opportunity to improve their asthma treatment. Several research projects are underway with the aim of spreading the use of AsthmaTuner as widely as possible.

“In primary care, there’s considerable need for better diagnostic and treatment tools, and this is where AsthmaTuner can make a real difference. That’s why we’re conducting a study to investigate long-term use that can show what changes in working methods are needed among healthcare staff,” says Björn.

Research studies into the technology are also underway in neighboring countries: in Denmark, with the aim of treating severe asthma in school children; and in Norway to better structure the diagnosis of exercise-induced asthma, especially among elite skiers.

AsthmaTuner is approved as a medical product throughout the entire EU and the hope is to make it available internationally.

Throughout the process from concept to product, the team has had support from several innovation environments.

“We have had wonderful support from KI Innovations, as well as Flemingsberg Science, both financially and with advice on everything from technology to business development. Without their help, we’d never have made it so far,” says Björn.

Five tips for others with great ideas

Henrik Ljungberg and Björn Norlund took their idea about a digitalt support tool for asthma patients and got it into the hands of patients. Here are their tips for anyone who has a great idea:

  1. Be patient. And ensure that research is allowed to follow advances to demonstrate benefits and make it easier to evaluate and improve.
  2. Get help from your own and others’ contact networks to create a strong team where everyone can provide resources.
  3. Learn to write good funding applications, and bring in help to formulate them correctly if necessary. Without initial funding, advice, or access to appropriate innovation environments, you will not be able to test your solution.
  4. Always focus on patients to align with their needs and make things easy for them. Technology itself must not control development.
  5. Get involved in environments around innovation hubs, such as KI Innovations, to keep the door open to more rapid development.

Founder: Björn Nordlund and Henrik Ljungberg. Established: 2015.

Read more at asthmatuner.se