For an individual diagnosed with asthma, it is a daily struggle with the condition and how it affects their lives. It could mean an increasing number of sick days at work, shortness of breath while climbing stairs or playing with children, and low energy levels to perform daily tasks.
What we don't see is the constant fear of an attack, if left untreated, could lead to permanent damage to lung function.
Approximately 300 million individuals are currently suffering from asthma worldwide and 10 percent of it, 30 million patients, are in India. A big challenge is that patients often wean off their medication with initial relief, and follow up only when they experience an asthma attack or when they can't cope. This kind of care is episodic, reactive and usually leads to a higher number of medications to control the situation from worsening or leading hospitalisation, Dr. Sid Kolwankar, AVP - Clinical and Product, Wellthy Therapeutics says.
But what if we could live in a world where we can prevent such attacks?
Knowing one's triggers
Attacks are usually triggered by allergens such as dust, mould, pollution or bird droppings that inflame and narrow the airways and make it difficult to breathe. These triggers are hard to identify as they need to be continuously monitored and mapped to the patient at the time of the attack. Patients are unable to reveal their full-history, and time-strapped doctors don't have enough time to probe. They're also difficult to predict especially when unavoidable environmental factors play a large role. Digital modes can now help create a system where one was forewarned. One could take steps to avoid, reduce exposure or even keep medication handy to act quickly. Even a minute's delay is costly.
Right intake of medication
Doctors often recommend inhalers for long term treatment. They're more effective than oral medications if taken correctly, as they reach the affected area more directly than oral pills. Yet, with the social stigma that being asthmatic carries, it is not uncommon for one to use their inhalers infrequently or abandon them altogether. Fears around addiction and side effects are cloud better judgement and results in drop-offs.
For those that do use inhalers, according to Dr Kolwankar, they have not been taught how to use it properly, because of which suboptimal medication is delivered. So even when one gets over the stigma that asthma carries, they still don't receive full care.
Disease awareness and education
Patients often resort to self-management techniques that get in the way of them receiving effective care. What if they could be more informed on how to better manage asthma? Patients stand to gain tremendously from knowing about their condition, treatment plan, how it affects their body, and the right course of action in case of an attack.
Moreover, with support, patients can make small changes in their behaviour to reduce the occurrence of attacks daily. Unfortunately, time-strapped doctors are often unable to dedicate more time towards counselling patients to get the most out of their treatment or to deal with asthma, the doctor adds.
Asthma is a chronic condition where one could benefit greatly from continuous care. And digital therapeutics can play a large role in delivering optimal care. Digital therapeutics delivered through a smartphone application on the patient's phone can identify triggers based on symptoms and behaviours over time. It can alert the patient about weather conditions and the air quality index based on location.
Patient education delivered digitally can help coach patients on right use of inhalers, which carries long term impact on the overall quality of life. Digital therapeutic solutions have been proven to reduce the number of flare-ups in the west, its high time India got a solution made for India too.