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Smarter Technology

Currently, patients with asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) rely on metered-dose inhalers (MDIs) and dry powder inhalers (DPIs) to deliver critical medication to their lungs. However, there is room for human error with each and every dose. In fact, an alarming number of patients make mistakes when using their inhalers. Research shows 94% of DPI users and 76% of MDI users do not use their devices properly (1). Furthermore, findings indicate low device competence only continues to rise (2).

The mistakes and misuse can be attributed to a number of factors. In the first place, inhalers – which seem simple on the surface – can be complicated to use. Patients must often rely on their healthcare providers to teach them how to use the devices properly. However, those providers often do not receive proper training themselves on the device’s correct use.

To further complicate matters, research shows a low adherence rate among asthma and COPD patients. One study found only 25% of COPD patients use inhaled medications every day (3). Among asthma patients, up to 70% do not adhere to prescribed medication (4). It goes without saying that, if medication is not delivered correctly, it will be ineffective. When patients are not properly using their inhalers or simply not using them at all, they are not getting the important medication necessary to maintain their health and well-being. Put simply, their health is at risk. MDIs have not changed much in the decades since they were first invented, which is a huge point of frustration for healthcare providers who have long been aware of these problems. Even if they could convince their patients to use their inhalers consistently, the other half of the battle remains. Maureen George, PhD, RN, from the Columbia University Medical Center says, “Adherence alone with bad technique is not going to improve conditions or quality of life for asthma or COPD patients.”

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Excited by the ways technology can improve healthcare outcomes, Sam Van Alstyne is a software engineer who ventured into marketing and has since become passionate about digital health. As the new Products Marketing Leader in 3M’s Drug Delivery Systems Division, he is responsible for connected respiratory programmes.
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Sam Van Alstyne
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