Dr. Iltifat Husain’s physician take is at the end of this article

In 2013, iMedicalapps reported on the introduction of Propeller Health’s inhaler sensor, which allows patients with asthma and COPD to record the time and place that they use their medication. The device sits on top of a standard metered dose inhaler and can be linked to a user’s smartphone through Bluetooth. More recently, Propeller has been teaming up with companies to extend its reach. It is now used in 35 commercial applications in the US, according to a recent report in MedCity News.

For example, Propeller is now working with Boehringer Ingelheim to serve as the remote monitoring platform for the drug company’s Respimate inhaler. And most recently, it received FDA approval to be used with GlaxoSmithKline’s Diskus dry powder inhaler. The Propeller device can help physicians better manage patients’ conditions by offering insights into the way patients use their inhalers, and help detect symptom patterns that patients would not normally be aware of without the aid of the monitoring system.

According to Propeller, its new FDA clearance allows the company to make claims about the device’s ability to “increase adherence to therapy, predict oncoming exacerbation and help reduce the frequency of symptoms and exacerbation in asthma and COPD.” The FDA approval was based in part on Propeller’s data from a large randomized trial.

In the past, patients with chronic respiratory disorders were encouraged to keep a handwritten diary to keep track of symptoms, triggers, and the use of medication, but few patients diligently follow that advice. The Propeller system takes on that task, collecting objective data and feedback from the inhaler. The data collected with the device, when used in conjunction with the mobile app and its provider dashboard, can help physicians identify patients who are not adhering to their medication regimen. It also allows them to configure customized alerts so they can be notified if a patient’s respiratory status deteriorates.

Dr. Iltifat Husain’s take on this:

More so than even asthma, this digital health solution is tremendous for COPD exacerbations. The morbidity and mortality from COPD exacerbations is huge. COPD exacerbations can require significant intervention, such as ICU care for close respiratory management or even intubations in the Emergency Room. Helping prevent even one critically ill COPD visit to the emergency room can save tens of thousands of dollars. What should be remembered though is this digital health solution still doesn’t tackle the main issue behind COPD and asthma exacerbations — social issues that lead to overall health decompensation. More often than not, the patient who comes in with an Asthma or COPD exacerbation comes because they have run out of their inhalers or don’t have adequate access to healthcare.

So while Propeller Health touts the billions of dollars associated with exacerbations, those in digital health need to realize this isn’t by any means even close to a panacea.