Washington D.C: Scientists have developed an app that can aid parents and doctors to monitor asthma in children.

“It’s exciting to see that using an effective app can not only help improve the lives of children with asthma and their parents but also allow their providers to give optimal care,” said the study’s lead author.

The study was published in the journal ‘Pediatrics’. When families monitored symptoms with the app and adjusted care accordingly, children had better asthma control and made fewer visits to the emergency department. Using the app also meant that children missed fewer days of school and parents took fewer days off work, thereby improving quality of life.

Despite effective treatments, keeping asthma in check can be particularly tricky. An attack can come seemingly without warning and up to 40% of children hospitalised. A major contributing factor is that signs that precede an attack often go unnoticed.

Scientists designed the app as a way to continually monitor a child’s disease. Asthma care is typically reactive, focusing on treating recurrent attacks, said Bryan Stone, the study’s senior author.
While most children with asthma show signs days to weeks before an attack, parents can easily miss these changes. The app allows for monitoring at home, opening up an opportunity to observe worsening signs and intervene in time to prevent a flare-up.

A unique feature of the app is that it sends parents and doctors data in real-time, and triggers an automated alert when a child’s asthma is acting up. When that happens, the app prompts parents to make an appointment with the child’s doctor. A doctor receiving an alert may decide to proactively call parents to determine how to address the issue.

“Parents love the idea that they can see how their child is doing and that their doctor is on the other end of the app and working with them,” said Stone.

Families who use the app fill out a brief weekly online survey based on a standard assessment called the Asthma Control Test. The app assigns a score reflecting whether asthma is impeding the child’s daily activities and how often they are using medication to control symptoms. It then issues recommendations dependent on being categorised as severe (red zone), under control (green zone) or approaching severe (yellow zone).

More than 300 children and parents at 11 clinics enrolled in the study designed to determine whether the app improved patient outcomes. Researchers found that children who used the app: improved their asthma control, made significantly fewer visits to the emergency department and hospital, significantly reduced oral steroid use (a surrogate measure for asthma attacks), missed 60% fewer days of school, and had an improved quality of life. In addition, their parents missed 70% fewer days of work.

Children and parents showed improvements in all measurements three months after starting to use the app, and the benefits persisted 12 months later.

The investigators also compared outcomes from children who used the app with outcomes from children who did not use the app. Results from this part of the study showed that children who used the app: made 60 per cent fewer visits to the emergency department and hospital, and had a 35% reduced use of oral steroids.