Funding comes through to aid in mHealth efforts to fight asthma, COPD

mHealth funded to fight asthma, COPD

Infused with new funding, one of the nation's forerunners in the use of mHealth for people with asthma and COPD is ready to help them breathe easier.

Asthmapolis, launched in 2010 and based in Madison, Wis., has pulled in $5 million in Series A funding from the Social+Capital Partnership, a Palo Alto, Calif.-based partnership of philanthropists and venture funding experts. Company officials say the funding will be used to enhance and expand their line of smartphone applications and snap-on inhaler sensors that track when and how often patients with asthma or COPD used their inhaled medications.

In an interview earlier this week, David Van Sickle, PhD, the company's CEO and co-founder, and Mark Gehring, the company's president and co-founder, pointed out that asthma affects roughly 25 million people in the United States, or about 8.4 percent of the population. More importantly, they said, about 60 percent of those people aren't managing their disease properly, and 80 percent think they are.

"There's a definite lack of awareness of [their] ability to control their asthma," said Gehring. "People are learning for the first time [about how to manage their disease], so there's a lot of low-hanging fruit."

Through the sensors and smartphone app, Asthmapolis pushed personalized information to both the patient and the physician, providing information on medication use as well as feedback. The Asthmapolis sensor acts as a kind of asthma diary, capturing medication use and other data and storing it in the user's smartphone, which can then be shared with the physician to create a better management plan.

Van Sickle said physicians often don't know how they can help asthma sufferers manage their condition other than sending out questionnaires or interviewing their patients during an office visit. They need access to real-time data, he said, in order to make more meaningful decisions about medication and management.

Van Sickle said asthma sufferers often learn to accommodate their symptoms, rather than find ways to better manage their asthma – which in turn would lead to less symptoms and a reduction in the $3,000 to $4,000 spent by each patient each year to try to control their asthma. Uncontrolled asthma, he added, leads to some 500,000 hospitalizations, 2 million emergency department visits, 10 million physician visits and 25 million missed days of school or work per year.

“Asthma alone is a $50 billion problem in the United States. We look forward to accelerating our commercial efforts to improve asthma control and produce sizable economic savings,” he said in an April 4 press release announcing the new funding.

Added Gehring: “To date we’ve helped our users achieve an extra 20,000 asthma-free days. Each day they feel better is also a day they don’t end up in the emergency department, which means reduced costs for our payer and health system customers.”

Company officials said the results of recent beta tests have been promising, and they've been able to secure partnerships with WellPoint/Amerigroup Florida, Wyckoff Heights Medical Center in New York and Dignity Health in California. Asthmapolis also has an ongoing initiative with retail pharmacies and other public sector sites organized by city officials in Louisville, Ky.

"Through partnerships with entrepreneurs such as Asthmapolis, we are investing in ways mobile technology can help us and physicians improve the cost, quality and access to care,” said Richard Roth, vice president of strategic innovation at Dignity Health, in the press release. “Asthmapolis is a simple solution that is making an immediate impact on how physicians deliver care and how patients see results. The early stage success of Asthmapolis is evident in how mobile technology can empower patients, improve health and increase the quality of care.”

“Asthmapolis is a pioneering company at the intersection of sensors, analytics and digital health. The company boasts a strong pipeline, plus a compelling track record of successful patient outcomes,” added Ted Maidenberg, Social Capital’s general partner, who will join the Asthmapolis board of directors as part of the funding deal. “In the context of health reform, Asthmapolis presents the first compelling business case in digital health for payers and providers seeking to better manage costs and outcomes for people with chronic respiratory disease.”

Van Sickle, Gehring and Erica St. Angel, Asthmapolis' chief marketing officer, said the funding would be used to enhance the company's platform and do more to help the COPD population, which tends to be older, more costly and in need of better remote monitoring solutions.