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Here's a lesson for mHealth entrepreneurs looking to take their business global: Not everyone uses 911 as an emergency number.
The developers of the AsthmaSense app have learned that lesson, and a few others, and recently released an updated version of the app. It's one of several moves iSonea, an Australian company with offices in Maryland and California, has made recently as it looks to dominate the mHealth market for asthma.
With some 300 million people worldwide currently affected by asthma, that's a big market.
"We're on the right track. We're having some really good user experiences," says Michael Thomas, the company's CEO.
“The interest expressed thus far in diverse markets suggests that AsthmaSense is definitely meeting a global need," Thomas said in a recent press release announcing version 1.0.1 of the app. "Our monitoring technology needs to be adaptable so it can be used by any asthma sufferer or caregivers in any marketplace. This update helps to ensure we meet that goal. ”
Originally known as KarmelSonix, the company launched the WheezoMeter personal monitoring device (which plugs into a smartphone's earphone jack and measures "turbulent sounds" in the lungs) in Australia, which has one of the highest prevalence rates of asthma in the world. Building on the company's proprietary Acoustic Respiratory Monitoring (ARM) software, the company launched the AsthmaSense app this past May in the United States, and in September submitted a 510(k) application to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to market the SonoSentry, a rebranded, non-prescription version of the Wheezometer, in the United States. The company is also working on an AsthmaSense Cloud platform, with the goal of bringing physicians and other caregivers into the asthma management circle.
Company officials say the U.S. market has accounted for 55 percent of app downloads to date, while Australia accounts for another 8 percent. There have also been downloads in at least 16 other countries, ranging from Canada and Mexico to Europe, India and Singapore. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control has estimated that 25 million Americans suffer from asthma, and anticipates the worldwide number to increase to 400 million by 2025.
Through AsthmaSense, users can input their own physician-recommended asthma action plan and track their condition with active reminders. The app, meanwhile, gathers symptoms, medication use, breathing function assessment, issues alerts and guidance.
Thomas and Michael Cheney, the company's vice president of marketing, say AsthmaSense has caught on with users because it goes beyond simply telling someone that he or she is experiencing an asthma attack.
"Our market research suggests that (those dealing with asthma) are more diligent," says Cheney.
Thomas says the app also helps asthma sufferers avoid an over-reliance on medication, which can also cause serious health problems.
Thomas and Cheney say the company has run up against one of the more strident barriers to sustainability – the notion that people will download an app, use it a few times and then forget about it. Thomas says it's a constant challenge to deliver "the right message at the right time and in the right dose" and avoid overwhelming the user with information.
"We want patients to be engaged and to ask for it. We can't just provide them (with all the data) and expect them to act on it. … They want reminders," says Cheney. "It's a push-and-pull process."
And a learning process for both – as version 1.0.1 of AsthmaSense points out. Along with giving users the ability to program their own emergency response numbers, the revised app also includes metric conversions.
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