Propeller Health Makes Mobile Monitoring Easy for Seniors

With an aging U.S. population and the push to control healthcare costs, entrepreneurs are rushing to develop innovative consumer health products that could help patients avoid expensive hospital visits.

But for some healthtech startups, a key question is how to design products for a wide range of ages, including some older folks who don’t own a smartphone or still think “the cloud” is just a mass of condensed water vapor in the sky.

Propeller Health, a startup based in Madison, WI, knows this challenge well. Its mobile-connected recordkeeping service for respiratory disease patients was primarily designed for patients with asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)—two conditions often treated with the same medications, but that generally affect different age groups. Asthma is more commonly diagnosed in younger people, mainly children, while COPD is more prevalent in senior citizens, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

That has led Propeller Health to tweak its product and cater the way its services are delivered to different populations, said David Van Sickle, the company’s co-founder and CEO. Propeller Health’s platform is built around a data-collecting device that attaches to a medication inhaler and can note the time and location for each use, information that is stored and wirelessly transmitted to a user’s smartphone or a Qualcomm base station plugged into the wall at home.

With older COPD patients, the emphasis is on getting the data to doctors and family members who can remotely monitor a patients’ use, Van Sickle said.

“We spend less time trying to teach them through smartphones about [environmental] triggers [of COPD attacks] and their level of control,” Van Sickle said. “It’s really biased toward helping physicians and care teams be able to efficiently and effectively monitor a big panel of patients and identify folks who aren’t doing as well as they could be … and giving them an opportunity to intervene before [the patients] end up needing acute medical attention.”

For the patients, Propeller Health wants the technology to “blend into the background” so the focus is on better management of the condition, Van Sickle said.

The Qualcomm device is key for Propeller Health customers who don’t own smartphones and don’t have Wi-Fi set up at home. It uses a cellular radio signal to transmit inhaler data to Propeller Health’s server, Van Sickle said.

Propeller Health’s services include sending reports to customers that summarize their medication use in order to help them see patterns in their symptoms. For those who don’t use e-mail or text messaging, Propeller Health will send them reports via snail mail or talk things through over the phone.

Physicians and other caregivers can also receive patients’ data, although they might not choose to receive electronic alerts for each inhaler use by all of their patients because it could become overwhelming, said Propeller Health Chief Marketing Officer Erica St. Angel. Caregivers tend to more closely monitor at-risk patients, say someone who was just released from the hospital after recovering from a severe COPD attack. On the other hand, family members, like an elderly patient’s adult children, often choose to receive text message alerts for each inhaler use, she said.

The company is also developing … Next Page »

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