Technology and its Role in Respiratory Care

By Nancy Sinha

Outcomes for patients with chronic respiratory diseases remain poor despite the development of novel therapies. In part, this reflects the fact that adherence to therapy is low and clinicians lack accurate methods to assess this issue. Digital technologies hold promises to overcome these barriers to care. For example, algorithmic analysis of large amounts of information collected on health status and treatment use, along with other disease-relevant information such as environmental data, can be used to help guide personalized interventions that may have a positive health impact, such as establishing habitual and correct inhaler use. Novel approaches to data analysis also offer the possibility of statistical algorithms that are better able to predict exacerbations, thereby creating opportunities for preventive interventions that may adapt therapy as disease activity changes. To realize these possibilities, digital approaches to disease management should be supported by strong evidence, have a solid infrastructure, be designed collaboratively as clinically effective and cost-effective systems, and reflect the needs of patients and healthcare providers.

Doctors and pharmacists are now able to utilize a mobile phone application to help them better manage medications for patients with heart failure. Designed by Alberta Health Services and the University of Alberta in Edmonton, the step-by-step instructions help determine proper dosages and manage complications as they arise. Clinicians have traditionally relied on national guidelines, a drug’s instructions, and their own experience to figure out medications for patients, but a large document of guidelines can be cumbersome. The answers that doctors need will now be a click away on their phones.

Researchers at Alberta Health Services have also developed a portable machine that is opening up a world of possibilities when it comes to lung transplants. Known as “lungs in a box”, the machine will save countless lives by changing the way lungs are transported. For the past 30 years, an ice cooler would be used to move a donated set of lungs. However, of all the lungs donated every year, three out of four are rejected due to damage – often from the ice used during this traditional transportation. The machine uses state of the art technology to keep donated lungs warm, and infused with oxygen and nutrients.

Surgeons are able to operate more precisely and see better with the aid of 3-D images. The technique allows surgeons to remove the tumor and any affected lymph nodes, and as little of the lung as possible, with minimal damage to the surrounding tissue. In the end, patients usually have less pain and scarring after their surgery, as well as shorter hospital stays.

Researchers at B.C. Children’s Hospital have developed a new mobile application that can measure respiratory rates in children roughly six times faster than the standard manual method. “RRate” allows caregivers to measure respiratory rate by tapping the touch screen every time the child inhales. In addition to calculating the rate of inhalations during a given time, the app also provides an animation of a breathing baby allowing for a direct comparison with the breathing patient.

Similarly, respiratory conditions represent a high health burden for children and adults alike. Over 3 million Canadians of all ages have a serious respiratory disease. After cardiovascular disease and cancer, respiratory diseases are responsible for the third-highest share of hospitalizations and deaths in Canada. Although Canada has seen a decrease in respiratory diseases over the past few decades, aging populations are expected to lead to a surge in these diseases in the future.



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