Managing asthma: To app or not to app?

Self-management plays an important role in keeping asthma symptoms under control. To assist patients in keeping track of their asthma plan, medications and symptoms, several mobile asthma apps have been introduced into the market. Accessible, customizable, and inexpensive (or free), mobile apps present an alternative to paper tracking that may appeal to some families.

Just a quick web search turned up apps such as AsthmaCheck, AsthmaSense and Asthma Buddy, all of which help patients record and review their plans and peak flow values. Propeller Health offers an app that attaches to the inhaler and sends information to the patient’s doctor. The doctor can then look at the patient’s asthma symptoms and inhaler use for correlation with certain activities or locations and make treatment recommendations or encourage better compliance.

Apps such as these would seem to appeal to patients who are technically inclined. If you or your child with asthma fits the bill and would enjoy tracking peak-flows, meds and activities using an app, give one a try. It may provide some insights and improve compliance.

As with many tech innovations, the novelty may wear off. I suspect the user would be quite interested at first and diligent about entering data, but that interest may wane over time. Whether or not the asthma apps can be truly useful on a widespread basis remains to be seen. I haven’t noted keen interest on the part of my patients’ families in these apps, but I don’t see a down side to trying them, especially if they’re free. Ultimately, we want your child’s asthma to be well-controlled, and if a mobile app can contribute to that outcome, I’m all for it!

Electronic tracking of daily asthma status has been a component of clinical research trials for many years. In these trials, it is necessary that app usage be strictly observed, in order to gather accurate data. Thus, there is motivation for persevering with the app use. This may be a model for developing a cooperative management plan between health care providers and their patients, taking a team approach to the management of asthma.

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