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App allows those with Asthma to Breathe Easy

Number One health app allows those with Asthma to Breathe Easy

New Zealand has one of the highest rates of asthma in the world - second only to the UK. Asthma affects approximately 20% of the population, and is the leading cause of hospitalisation for children.

Asthma New Zealand works towards helping people with asthma, and their families, by providing the information they need to understand, manage and live with asthma. While there is no real cure for asthma, it can be kept under control. Asthma New Zealand has teamed up with John McRae, CEO of events, promotions and development company VADR, to develop an innovative way for those with asthma to manage their symptoms.

Together they’ve developed the Breathe Easy asthma management app, the first iPhone App that allows users to monitor asthma symptoms and easily report back to their GP. Breathe Easy is the first mobile health app available in NZ, and monitors peak flow levels, creates action plans to share with their GP, offers reminders to take medication and provides links to important information and support from Asthma New Zealand. It is essentially a digitalised system that improves on, and will eventually replace, current paper-based asthma management plans, which help those with asthma to prevent or reduce the severity of their symptoms.

“I’ve had asthma for as long as I can remember - as child right through to adulthood,” says John. “As I gained a better understanding of the condition, I’ve been able to manage it better.” John learnt to identify his own triggers and the resulting symptoms, and was able to adapt his lifestyle accordingly, for example, by eliminating certain foods from his diet that exacerbated his symptoms.

While John had his own symptoms under control, he wanted to help others to do the same.

He’s been on the board of Asthma Auckland since June 2013, and had previously been involved in earlier fundraising projects.

“I wanted to focus on a project that I was passionate about,” he says. “I already had the resources in place, and I knew they could be used to provide a solution to a problem that affects a lot of people.”

Working with Asthma New Zealand was an interesting experience for John. “Asthma New Zealand are a brave & innovative organisation,” he says. “Not everyone would take on a project like this, that used technology in a way that hasn’t been done before.”

Creating the app was not without its challenges. The Breathe Easy App was launched through IOS4 technology in 2012, but required a twelve-month development process, something which John attributes to the regulations that surround the health sector.

“It was a long discovery process of consulting stakeholders, health experts and users,” he says. “Being health-related, the app required a rigorous approval process and it’s vital that every step is done correctly and meets all requirements.” There are always challenges when creating something new, and John found it helped to have proper systems in place. “The App had great feedback and very positive, transparent reviews. I was also lucky to have a talented team working for me, who tackled the issue and rose to meet the challenge.”

A key feature of the app is its ability to remind users to use their inhaler or preventer. While a wide range of asthma medication is available, as John says, “If you don’t take it, it doesn’t work.” As mobile technology adapts to take on more and more roles traditionally filled by other products, a phone is often the first thing one engages with in the morning and the last thing used at night. In an age of hyper-connectivity, it makes sense to multitask by using the technology available to us for multiple purposes.

During its initial stages, Breathe Easy received a lot of resistance from the health sector.

“People were somewhat reluctant to get on board,” say John. “They thought it wouldn’t be used, but those attitudes quickly changed when it became so popular.”

Despite initial challenges, the Breathe Easy App had over 2000 downloads within six months of its launch. The App’s popularity indicates that people are highly engaged with their own health through mobile devices. GPs are notified of users records on a permission basis, yet it would appear that taking on the management of one’s own symptoms offers app users a sense of control and ownership over their own health matters.

VADR are currently developing an online clinical dashboard, which will benefit both GPs and patients. This will monitor the results of peak flow testing and other symptoms, allowing patients to adapt their own action plans accordingly. GPs will be provided with an overview of their patient’s symptoms, allowing them a greater understanding of the condition and meaning they will be better equipped to treat patients as a result.

The Breathe Easy App demonstrates how the public is willing to engage with technological developments that can be used to regulate one’s wellbeing. Asthma New Zealand, along with VADR, continues to work towards providing Kiwis with support, advice and new and innovative solutions to manage their health.


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