At Connecticut Children’s Medical Center in Hartford, we are trying out one such tool as part of a research study. Adherium’s Hailie sensor2,3 is a device that wraps around a patient’s inhaler to monitor and promote asthma adherence. For instance, it lights up and vibrates if the patient forgets to use their inhaler at the prescribed time. It also records whether the patient took the mouthpiece off, shook the contents, and/or held the inhaler right side up. And it is all connected to a patient’s phone or tablet.
As any physician treating asthma knows, you spend a lot of time making sure patients know how to use their inhalers correctly. But when it comes to whether they are using them at the right time, our most reliable tool has simply been a patient’s memory — which we record using pen and paper. The Hailie solution, which captures the history of the patient’s medication-usage patterns, allows us to make more informed, evidence-based care decisions in a way befitting today’s technological advances.
The Hailie sensor is just one example of how new technologies can help us deliver better disease management, improve adherence, and save money — especially in the underserved communities that need it the most. My hope is that with tools like this, we can start realizing gains in patients’ lives proportionate to the gains made in understanding a disease.
It takes more than technology, though. It takes thinking about disease beyond the walls of a hospital or a doctor’s practice and trying to extend the power of medicine into the everyday lives of communities. At institutions like ours we are working on that, aided by technology sometimes and in many low tech ways like community education and partnering with leaders in neighborhoods. We think we can bridge the gap between the promise held out by medicine and seeing it fully realize its potential in the way we live our lives.
So yes, maybe one day when someone asks, “Is asthma that big a deal?” it really won’t be.
Tregony Simoneau, MD is an assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of Connecticut School of Medicine, codirector of Connecticut Children’s Medical Center’s Asthma Center and Easy Breathing program.