• Pregnant women with asthma living may soon be able to access a new Australian-designed program to help them monitor their health. (Getty Images)Source: Getty Images
A new telehealth program developed by Melbourne-based researchers is promising to help pregnant women with asthma better manage their condition and avoid the health risks associated with the condition.
By
Yasmin Noone

1 Apr 2016 - 9:27 AM  UPDATED 1 Apr 2016 - 9:27 AM

Pregnant women with asthma living may soon be able to access a new Australian-designed program to help them monitor their health and reduce the risk of the condition causing harm to their unborn child.

The new telehealth program, created by researchers at Melbourne’s Centre for Medicine Use, aims to prevent pregnant women from experiencing severe asthma symptoms and possibly developing gestational diabetes, hypertensive disorders, and a host of other conditions.

The program works by encouraging pregnant patients to input information about their asthma into a mobile phone app. Using an algorithm, the app provides the patient and treating doctor with daily and weekly clinical information her condition, and is able to intervene with advice on what to do if and when symptoms worsen.

“These women in the study all experienced a better quality of life during their pregnancy and their asthma remained under control because of the program,” says paper co-author, Dr Johnson George from the Centre for Medicine Use and Safety at Monash University.

Called MASTERY (management of asthma with supportive telehealth of respiratory function in pregnancy), the program works in two parts. The first is a mobile phone application, Breathe-easy, which records asthma symptoms and medication usage. The second is a handheld respiratory device used to measure lung capacity and lung function, created to support the Breathe-easy app.

Asthma is a major public health concern, affecting one in 10 Australian adults. There is no cure, but it can be managed.

If the pregnant patient’s asthma control status is poor, the application tells them so and urges them to make treatment changes or contact their health care professional.

“We believe empowering a patient to self-manage their health condition is very important, just as it is also important for the patient to get feedback about their health,” says Dr George.

Asthma is a major public health concern, affecting one in 10 Australian adults. There is no cure, but it can be managed.

Effective asthma management is also particularly important during pregnancy given the associated risk of pre-eclampsia, foetal growth restriction, preterm birth and the need for caesarean delivery in pregnant women with asthma.

Despite the risks associated with pregnancy, Dr George says many women go off their asthma medication, against doctor’s orders, once they fall pregnant because of safety concerns.

To prevent adverse events, the clinician recommends that pregnant women stay on their medication and do all they can to self-manage their condition, while in consultation with their doctor, to minimise the health risks of asthma.

"Women who achieve effective asthma control during pregnancy have a greater chance of a healthy outcome for them and their baby,” he says.

“This app helps patients manage their asthma through the provision of education, support, remote monitoring, instant feedback and telephone follow ups.”

This program helps the patient to save time and helps to make it easier for them to report their symptoms and asthma control on a weekly basis.

More than 70 pregnant women in their first or at the start of their second trimester were recruited to the study. Most were aged in their early 30s and the majority used inhaled corticosteroid/long-acting beta agonist combinations as their main form of asthma medication.

The study’s results, published in Respirology today, shows that the telehealth program increased the women’s control over their asthma, with the most positive improvement over their quality of life occurring after six months of participation.

It also found that pregnant women with asthma would benefit most if their doctor was also involved in the program.

“Due to health resource issues, these days we can’t have frequent interactions between patients and doctors. A patient may see you one day but not go back to the doctor for another three months, so the patient receives no feedback about their condition.

“But this program helps the patient to save time and helps to make it easier for them to report their symptoms and asthma control on a weekly basis.

“So although it is good to have both the patient and the GP involved in the process, alternatively, if the patient has enrolled themselves in a program like this and the doctor hasn’t, they can still take the data/feedback received from the app to their doctor for review.”

Dr George believes the program has the capacity to be used by others in the community who suffer asthma and be applied to other conditions like chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

Monash University has plans to make the program commercially available in the next two-to-three years. However, more research is needed. 

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