Asthma technology in New Zealand has had two important advances in recent months with the release of a new asthma management app and funding secured for the development of real-time risk prediction tool.

Senior clinical research fellow at the School of Pharmacy, University of Auckland, Dr Amy Chan has received $250,000 from the Health Research Council to use over the next three years to develop a tool to help patients and whānau predict the risk of asthma attacks. In the first stage, Dr Chan will collect data including step counts, sleep patterns, breathing rates, medication use, peak flow rates and weather patterns from both the environment and smart devices.

She will then use artificial intelligence (AI) techniques to analyse this data and determine which factors are most predictive of the asthma attacks. The final stage will involve building a risk predication model that can be integrated in a smartphone app, allowing users to monitor their risk of asthma attacks in real time and take preventative action.

Locally designed and developed asthma management app, RespiTrak, was launched in late July by Active Health Tech. The subscription-based app allows users to record data on their symptoms and general health, and record their peak flow using a Bluetooth peak flow device which feeds data directly to the app.

The app can be used by individuals or families, with one subscription covering a parent and up to five children. The app costs $20 per month, but RespiTrak product manager Brent Sorensen says the company will offer a limited number of free lifetime subscriptions through asthma societies to those most at need. They are also hopeful that the Ministry of Health will eventually see the value in purchasing this technology for all New Zealanders.

The app will save users’ data securely and allow users to share this data with health professionals in personalised reports. The developers have plans to incorporate more data into the app in the future. The first feature in development will provide information on quantities and sources of pollen in the environment.

To supply this information, Active Health Tech is looking to install 12 pollen sensors at key locations across New Zealand to collect data on pollen. It will be the first time that pollen counts have been measured in this way in New Zealand, providing important data for health professionals, weather forecasters and the agricultural sector. Valued at $12,000 each, the sensors will provide hourly reports based on data from a 30km radius, and daily average reports for a 100km radius.

Once installed, the sensors will feed the data to the cloud where AI technology will analyse the findings and send them to the RespiTrak app. The company hopes to have the first three sensors in place in Auckland by the beginning of September. Technicians are currently working on calibrating the American-built devices to recognise native New Zealand pollen sources. Brent says it’s hoped the sensors will eventually also be able to measure other airborne pollutants like dust and woodsmoke.

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