A mobile phone app for asthma patients appears to help them improve their health, according to preliminary results of a study evaluating use of the app.

Other dividends of the app include making it easier for clinicians glean useful data, and the study also yielded clues about ways to improve the design of such platforms, said the CEO of the company that developed the app.

"Participants using the app on a regular basis reported improved exercise capabilities, and also from objective data, significantly increased step count," said Corey Bridges, CEO of San Jose, Calif., and New York-based LifeMap Solutions.

The LifeMap app, called Asthma Health, was developed in partnership with the New York-based Icahn Institute for Genomics and Multiscale Biology at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai Hospital, and leverages the Apple iPhone and open source ResearchKit research platform. The researchers recruited and enrolled more than 8,600 participants for the study, which began in March 2015, remotely via the Asthma Health app.

Also See: iPhone App to Help COPD Patients Self-Manage Their Disease

Bridges said the early success of the study illustrated not only the potential for digital recruitment and enrollment of study participants, but also how the user experience of those participants can help perfect the design of the platforms. He cited the creation of the Doctor Dashboard, a quick visual summary display to help clinicians quickly ascertain their patients' health, and the integration of information from the app into the Epic electronic health record platform.

"We launched with a basic participant dashboard that summarized survey results, some biometrics, steps per day and adherence to medications," he said. With the graphs produced by the app, "we started getting multiple anecdotes of the app being used to drive very data-intensive discussions between patient and doctor.

“Participants were telling us, 'When I went for my visit I showed my app to the doctor and the doctor said, 'Look at that, you had a dip in your activity two weeks ago, and that corresponds to an increase in the severity of your symptoms, according to your survey responses.' The app influenced the discussions to such a degree that some of the participants said their doctor changed their medication. The app didn't change the medication, and the doctor didn't depend on the app, but it spurred a very data-driven discussion.”

These discussions prompted LifeMap to create a dashboard for care providers so they can more quickly assess data trends. “In three to five seconds, a doctor can say ,'There are some interesting patterns here,' “ Bridges said.

LifeMap plans to release an Android version of the app soon, although a date for that release has not been announced. Bridges also said that, while the Asthma Health app is a non-commercial app, LifeMap will be incorporating some of its features into other products.

"We have a COPD management app in pilot and we will be launching that commercially very soon, and we are working on additional apps," he said.  "We are going to put a Doctor Dashboard into every app we build.

"There are very different and valid – but each incomplete – perspectives on someone's health. Genomics data, data from EHRs or data from wearable devices is all useful, but they are limited in their own ways. But put those together and you get a much more complete and holistic view of someone's health. Being able to utilize that information much more holistically is sort of our holy grail."

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