The first signs of spring signaled the start of AIR Louisville, a collaborative big-data project that uses digital health technology to track and improve asthma symptoms over time.
Spring Can Be a Tough Time for Asthmatics in Louisville
The Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America named Louisville one of the top 20 most challenging cities to live with asthma. In 2014, Louisville was the spring allergy capital of the US; in 2015, the city holds the #2 spot on this list.
By monitoring information from asthmatic volunteers when they use rescue inhalers, AIR Louisville participants hope to learn more about the relationships between asthma, air pollution, and inhaled allergens. This data, captured at pain points, may reveal how often people need medication, and could help identify trends over time (i.e., the times of day when asthma is the worst, which geographic locations in the city are most difficult for asthmatics to live in, the effects of pollen and weather events, etc.).
The Propeller Health asthma management system should help patients and physicians to better understand asthma and the potential efficacy of certain medications. These important data points should also help local governments to make decisions about air quality.
"The goal of the AIR Louisville program is to use data from Propeller's connected medication sensors to make smarter choices about how we improve the quality of life for our residents," said Ted Smith, Chief of Civic Innovation at Louisville Metro Government and Executive Director of the Institute for Healthy Air Water and Soil. "By collecting data about where and when residents have asthma attacks, we can help inform public policy that will reduce the burden of asthma city-wide. The program will also help physicians, patients and employers understand asthma triggers and do a better job managing this health problem in our city."
The RWJF grant allows AIR Louisville and local participants to provide sensors to over 2,000 residents, and to collect data from the sensors throughout the course of the two-year program.
Propeller Health’s Chief Operating Officer Chris Hogg told mobihealthnews:
We can collect very granular data on where asthma and respiratory disease is happening in the community. We can learn that and also use the data to inform public policy. It’s a very collaborative effort between the city, philanthropy, local and national, and private. And the goal is to make it a self-sustaining program. So the RWJF wanted to start it, but the goal is to show payers in the area that this is a financially stable, ROI-positive program, and it will just keep going.
Once you have enough data in a geography and it’s concentrated, you can start doing interesting things. You can start to really understand the pattern with asthma and how it relates to temperature, wind, and air quality. You can start to notify all the residents of Louisville about asthma risk or the things that they might not be aware of, even if they don’t have sensors.
Show Me the Money: A Unique Spin on Adoption
One important aspect of the RWJF grant is its focus on sustainable health interventions. Veronica Combs, Director of Community Engagement at the Institute for Healthy Air, Water, and Soil told nuviun that one goal of the program is to take the risk out of this new approach to treating asthma.
The big picture plan is to go to self-insured companies, and say: ‘we have this new intervention… We’d like to distribute the sensors, to look at the employees, and say this is what healthcare cost before using the sensor and what the cost was after….' RWJ gave the funds because they wanted to see if it was sustainable, to reduce the corporate risk of trying something new in healthcare.
Brown-Forman, a distilled-spirits company with 700-800 employees in Louisville, is AIR Louisville’s first corporate partner, and hopes to roll out the program to its employees in May.
Another sustainability goal is to get insurers to cover the intervention. Passport Health Plan, a Medicaid insurance company in Louisville, is the first payer participating. Combs told nuviun, “We’re basically saying we’ll cover this experiment for you, and then you can see it if you like it.”
This is the first sponsored experiment Combs is aware of in the US, but is perhaps an interesting model for the adoption of other digital health innovations.