Please read my interview below with David Van Sickle, Co-Founder and CEO, Asthmapolis. He has done an amazing job in the last few years and is a leader of the mobile health movement.
Anne: What is Asthmapolis?David: Asthmapolis is an FDA cleared solution designed to help users manage their asthma more effectively, achieving better outcomes with less effort and cost. We invented snap-on sensors that track where, when and how often patients use their inhaler, while advanced analytics and mobile apps for iPhone and Android (or a base station for individuals without a smart phone) encourage controller adherence and reveal triggers, trends and personalized feedback. The data can also help physicians identify those patients who need more help controlling the disease before they suffer a severe and costly exacerbation.
Anne: Why did you decide to start this company?
David: Asthmapolis grew out of my frustration with current approaches to asthma management and lack of any obvious dent in rates of morbidity. For years the progress against the disease has been slow and confusing – more people with uncontrolled asthma, stubbornly high rates of preventable ER visits and hospitalizations. That, coupled with the opportunity provided by new technology and approaches that allows us to do stuff that we know can be effective in helping people, but in the past we’ve only been able to do it in a way that put and even bigger burden on patients. Our understanding of asthma has been limited by a lack of timely data, and our inability to collect information about where and when people develop symptoms.
We introduced new tools that aim to close this persistent gap, allowing us to accomplish what we should be able to in asthma management. I’m not talking about an incremental improvement on current, ineffective techniques, but rather a wholesale replacement that’s smarter and more efficient because it’s guided by real information and a better understanding of the day-to-day burden of asthma and how it’s treated. We recognize the value of moving this information vertically from patient to physician to researcher to public health. We’re outcome focused, using the passive collection of data and making it actionable. We take all the accumulated evidence and guidance on asthma management and serve it up in a way that supports self-management, when and where a patient needs it so they can actually make use of it, rather than it staying locked up in a giant PDF.
Anne: Tell us about the Asthma market and how the Asthmapolis solution will help solve an unmet need.
David: To date the asthma market has been characterized by self management essentially, and by commercial disease management solutions that have to date not been proven to be effective in helping people manage asthma improving outcomes. Asthma has continued to increase in prevalence; now more than 25 million people in the US have the disease, which is a sizeable increase over even when we started the company two years ago. And as a country, we’re spending $50 billion on direct medical costs each year – on hospitalizations, emergency department and unscheduled doctor visits, the majority of which are preventable with appropriate treatment. It’s remarkable that, for all we know about asthma, the majority of people don’t have the disease controlled nor do they or their physician have an accurate view of how well they are doing. Without that awareness we lose opportunity after opportunity to achieve control, reduce impairment and eliminate a lot of unnecessary suffering and preventable cost. Asthmapolis is taking that head on – with tools to strengthen and support self-management and give physicians more accurate and reliable views of the health of their patients.
Anne: How is your model unique compared with similar solutions?
David: Three ways. First, unlike lot of mobile health companies we offer both hardware and software – we combine a sensor that sits on top of asthma inhalers with a mobile app for iOS and Android (or a base station for those individuals without a smart phone) plus web tools for both the patient and their physician. The combination is a mobile health solution for asthma management that has been cleared by the FDA and we believe it is the first and presently only solution of its kind for asthma.
Second, we’re positioned very well at a confluence of a lot of different and promising trends: smart phones, mobile health initiatives, big data, sensors and internet of things, using algorithms and analysis to provide personal, targeted and valuable feedback to patients.
And third, we have a higher calling to produce better outcomes for public health through our data. The data we capture, and the way we aggregate it is unique because it’s designed to be put to work. We want to help public health agencies target and evaluate their interventions, provide new insight into the origins of asthma, and contribute to their ability to prevent it.
Anne: What is your revenue model?
David: While we are singularly focused on better support of the individual patient, we actually sell to health plans and payers on a per member, per month basis. To succeed as a business we have to be effective at eliminating the $4,000 to $6,000 in annual healthcare costs attributable to uncontrolled asthma. We make money by helping patients better manage their asthma, reducing costs, but also by simultaneously providing physicians with this information that they can use to better to manage their patients.
Anne: What are your predictions on the healthcare trends and accomplishments we’ll see in 2013?
David: I think we’re going to start to see a wave of evidence around the effect of these kinds of mobile health and connected tools that will hopefully bring on increasing use of data from the payer side. And most likely some consolidation in mHealth, too.
Anne: What transformations would you like to see in healthcare in the next few years?
David: I believe strongly we all need to think about supporting a much broader population than currently targeted by the majority of mHealth companies. That’s why Asthmapolis, even at this early stage is available in Spanish. We believe in reaching low-income, non-English speaking people.
I would also love to see more attention on building tools that support and encourage better chronic disease management, but with less, rather than more, effort on the part of people. Right now the focus is squarely on engagement, but I question if that is the appropriate target. I hope we can aim to achieve bigger, bolder goals, exemplified by things like vaccines, which have prevented untold amounts of disease with virtually no ongoing engagement. At Asthmapolis, we aren’t necessarily pushing for more and more engagement between the patient and the intervention. There are better metaphors to guide us like machines that help people accomplish the work of managing their illness, with limited attention, and with results that are faster, easier and more effective.