How COPD Patients Turn to Digital Tools for Relief

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a serious and chronic health issue that impacts patients’ lives on a daily basis. It also presents a challenge for providers and healthcare systems in helping patients manage the condition. But new digital health technologies are presenting viable options to address and improve COPD care at scale, with greater opportunities for patient innovations and early intervention strategies. Could solving the COPD puzzle lie in the advent of digital health solutions?

What is COPD?
Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a chronic inflammatory lung disease that causes obstructed airflow from the lungs. Symptoms include breathing difficulty, cough, mucus production and wheezing. Over 170 million people are living with COPD and accounts for over 3 million deaths each year globally[i].

It’s typically caused by long-term exposure to irritating gases or particulate matter, most often from cigarette smoke. People with COPD are at increased risk of developing heart disease, lung cancer and a variety of other conditions. Patients are also vulnerable to episodic COPD exacerbations (an acute worsening of respiratory symptoms requiring a change in treatment), triggered by various factors such as air pollution and infections[ii]. Uncontrolled COPD exacerbations often cause an irreversible loss in lung function and/or complications requiring medical treatment in a hospital[iii].

How is COPD treated?
COPD is a complex chronic condition, for which there is no cure, and treatment can often be elusive. Many patients are treated with bronchodilators that relax the muscles around the airways. This can help relieve coughing and shortness of breath and make breathing easier. Patients may also be prescribed oral and/or inhaled steroids to help reduce inflammation and exacerbations.

Even with ongoing treatment, patients may experience acute exacerbations when symptoms become worse for days or weeks. This can be caused by a respiratory infection, air pollution or other triggers of inflammation. When exacerbations occur, patients may need additional medications (such as antibiotics, steroids or both), supplemental oxygen or treatment in the hospital.

The influence of digital health on COPD
According to physicians, a key to preventing acute exacerbations is through regular medication management. Patients who regularly take their medications, along with steps to improve their overall health, are at a significantly reduced risk of experiencing an exacerbation. Incorporating digital health platforms to reinforce regular medication use, and the ability to perform digital interventions when needed, can help patients improve their health and reduce rescue medication use within six months, according at a study by Propeller health[iv].

The greatest advantage of digital health solutions is that they enable ongoing engagement with a patient and the ability for data to be shared with their healthcare team who can review their patient’s condition in real time and intervene as appropriate. This is hugely important in COPD as an impending exacerbation often goes unnoticed and unreported.

Digital health platforms can encourage patients to engage with their treatment and stay compliant on medications. Options such as smart inhalers can track use of medications but may be limited in function to connect with a patient’s care team. More advanced options like Medisafe’s digital health platform presents utilizes a smartphone app that engages patients in their treatment and is central to reducing reliance on more severe treatments and reducing future health risks[v].

Future outlook
The complexity of digital health for self-management of COPD has escalated with recent advancements in digital technology as well as computer processing power and capabilities. As a result, digital health is expanding its presence in helping patients and providers manage chronic conditions like COPD. Recent research has examined the use of personalized data collected via digital health devices to identify new opportunities for early prediction and prevention of COPD exacerbation.

By incorporating digital health solutions as part of patient treatment, providers gain a power tool in helping to manage the chronic condition. Using a comprehensive care platform that empowers respiratory patients to better manage their condition enables physicians to make data-driven care decisions and can lead to better outcomes. This can save finite resources in healthcare services and protect patients against acute exacerbations[vi]. Through increased use of digital health tools for COPD, innovative applications and care models are changing the approach to improve COPD care.

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