New mobile app has the potential to revolutionise asthma management

01 April 2016

Asthma is a major public health concern, affecting one in 10 Australian adults. There is no cure, but it can be managed. Effective asthma management is particularly important during pregnancy. The risk of pre-eclampsia, foetal growth restriction, preterm birth and the need for caesarean delivery are all recognised risk factors for women with asthma.

Researchers from Monash University's Centre for Medicine Use and Safety, the School of Public Health and Preventive Medicine, and Electrical and Computer Systems Engineering have developed a new telehealth program. The program, supported by the Monash Research Impact Fund, will help pregnant women monitor their asthma regularly, effectively and in partnership with their primary healthcare providers. The telehealth program MASTERY (management of asthma with supportive telehealth of respiratory function in pregnancy), involves the use of mobile application Breathe-easy to record asthma symptoms and medication usage. A handheld respiratory device used to measure lung capacity and lung function supports Breathe-easy users. This data is then automatically transmitted to a central server where researchers, participants and their health care professionals can securely access their data.

Dr Johnson George from the Centre for Medicine Use and Safety at Monash University said asthma sufferers are at particular risk during pregnancy and careful management of their asthma is vital.

"Women who achieve effective asthma control during pregnancy have a greater chance of a healthy outcome for them and their baby," he said.

"Asthma control is more effective if the patient plays an active role in its management. The app helps patients manage their asthma through the provision of education, support, remote monitoring, instant feedback and telephone follow ups," Dr George said.

According to the study, published in Respirology, the validity of lung function data obtained by the app is comparable to that of the data obtained by physicians. Daily remote monitoring of the lung function makes it easier to address any worsening symptoms. Breathe-easy provides users with both daily and weekly feedback regarding their asthma status - if their asthma control status is poor, the application urges users to make changes in their treatment and/or contact their health care professional.

Effective management of asthma through a telehealth program could have major short and long term public health benefits. Not only does the program have the potential to influence health policy and improve health outcomes for pregnant women and their babies, it also has the capacity to be used by others in the community who suffer asthma and other respiratory conditions. The Breathe-easy app could be made widely applicable for routine clinical use, particularly for those with chronic respiratory issues.