It’s estimated that over 5 million people have asthma in the UK alone, with the UK having one of the highest rates in Europe. It’s perhaps understandable, therefore, that a number of innovative new technologies have emerged to support those with the condition.
Thankfully, a number of technologies are emerging to try and help matters. One such has been developed by researchers at the Amalia Children’s Hospital in the Netherlands. The ‘virtual asthma clinic’, which is described in a recently published paper, aims to reduce face-to-face clinic visits by providing virtual appointments.
The facility allows for patients to be monitored online by doctors, and provides a 24-hour chat service to allow patients to receive advice around the clock.
The system was put through its paces during a 16 month randomized control trial involving over 200 children across eight hospitals. Patients in the virtual clinic were compared with peers receiving standard care across metrics such as the control of their asthma, the number of symptom-free days, medication use and number of unscheduled hospital visits.
The results revealed that those using the virtual clinic were not only symptom-free more often, but they also had better control of their asthma. What’s more, the virtual clinic also saved the hospitals €352 per patient over the full 16 months of the study.
With the growth in chronic conditions, such as asthma, it’s likely to be increasingly important that people have the tools to manage their own care.
“The ability of patients to take care of their own disease and to recognise exacerbation in a timely fashion brings benefit for the patient, for healthcare providers, for insurance companies and for society as a whole,” the authors say.
Shifting the focus
The paper outlines how the virtual clinic allowed the hospitals participating in the trial to fundamentally restructure the care they provide. For instance, traditional face-to-face consultations have been reduced due to more round-the-clock monitoring of symptoms that can be supported outside the hospital. Similarly, work that might ordinarily be performed by paediatricians is now conducted by asthma nurses.
Since the study concluded, fourteen different hospitals have signed up to use the virtual clinic, with ambitious plans to expand this further, not least via a partnership with health insurer VGZ. The researchers also plan to further explore the potential barriers to adoption for the system.
The team have also developed a mobile app, called Astmaatje, which is aimed at teenagers and is available on both Apple and Android devices. Ultimately, they hope that their technologies will help patients regain control over their condition.
“One of the wishes of the young people was to be able to send messages directly via their smartphone or tablet if their condition worsens, and to receive a quick response from a doctor or nurse,” they say. “They want to see an overview of their medication along with tips and tricks on how to reduce symptoms. These features are built into the app.”
It’s part of a growing number of technologies looking to help enhance treatment of asthma. For instance, a new platform has been recently launched in the UK to pull together research in the field.
The platform has been developed by the Asthma UK Centre for Applied Research, and aims to bring together the full gambit of applied research in the field, as well as connecting up with platforms that support and facilitate asthma research.
The resource also aims to help the next generation, with an extensive training program for the next generation of researchers. The new website highlights opportunities for prospective PhD students, as well as giving lots of information on current students.