Inhaler Monitoring Cuts Hospitalization Usage, Study Finds

Patients with emphysema, also known as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) whose inhalers were tracked by a monitoring device were less likely to need hospital admission, according to a new study by Propeller Health and the Cleveland Clinic.

Electronic monitoring allowed healthcare providers to intervene sooner than they typically would had they relied solely on patients’ reporting of their respiratory distress. The study also highlights the role technology can play in providing data that can help disease management programs to be more effective.

The sensors were designed by Propeller Health to attach to inhalers commonly used by COPD patients. They relay data to the patient’s cell phone, which then saves data about medication usage and adherence. That data is sent to Propeller Health’s platform, where healthcare providers can review data including problems like “suboptimal use of controller inhalers” or a spike in usage of rescue inhalers.

“We prescribe inhaled medications for patients with COPD all the time,” said study co-author Umur Hatipoğlu, M.D., of the Cleveland Clinic. “It’s really the cornerstone of their therapy, and when they return to the clinic, we do ask them whether they’re using their medications, but the reality is we never know how adherent patients are objectively.”

After one year, the study participants’ hospital use dropped from 3.4 visits to the hospital in the prior year to 2.2 visits in the year covered by the study.

Study co-author Richard Rice, RRT, M.Ed., told Inside Digital Health that the Propeller Health platform sent alerts when it determined that increased rescue inhaler usage suggested that the patient was at risk of a COPD exacerbation.

“A common scenario would be: They were more active than usual or did not have access to their nebulizer, necessitating increased use,” Rice said. “There were also scenarios where we scheduled same- or next-day appointments, and they were examined and prescribed prednisone for the early exacerbation onset.”

The decrease in hospitalizations noted in the study suggests and opportunity not only to improve the lives of people with COPD but to potentially make a significant cut to healthcare spending in a high-cost clinical area.

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