Boehringer pilots inhalers with sensors to encourage patient adherence

Propeller Health's mobile platform--Courtesy of Propeller Health

Boehringer Ingelheim envisions someday selling a smart inhaler that can tell patients when its medication is running low, and remind them if they missed a scheduled dose.

To that end, the company is testing the use of its Respimat inhalers with a Propeller Health sensor attached to the back. Propeller Health specializes in designing sensors and apps for asthma and COPD patients, making it a natural partner. In September the company closed a $14.5 million Series B financing round.

"The goal is really to passively collect this information and to try to put it to work in a new way that's made possible by digital health interventions that are able to put computing power and new interfaces to work on the sensor-captured information," Propeller Health CEO David Van Sickle told MobiHealthNews. "Really trying to get contextually relevant, personally meaningful interventions in the moment, limited by a real mission in the company to do so without asking the patient and the caregiver to do much at all.

"It means the sensors sort of knowing how much medication is remaining and suggesting an appropriate time for refilling the prescription. And it means thinking about ways to put information about the daily use of these medications to work, to think of ways we can reward individuals intrinsically and extrinsically to motivate better adherence," Van Sickle continued in the article.

The payoff for Boehringer would come in the form of improved patient adherence with dosing instructions. That's an issue all pharma companies are struggling with. In a recent speech, CVS Health CEO Larry Merlo said that medication non-adherence is costing the healthcare system about $300 billion per year in unnecessary costs.

Boehringer is also working with healthcare company AdhereTech to develop smart wireless pill bottles. Inhalers are a natural target for sensor technology because the devices are not separated from the medication that lies inside prior to delivery.

The company's director of its New Business Model and Healthcare Innovation group, Larry Brook, said that he wants more industry players to test the technology in order to make it interoperable between inhalers.

"If I go to a health plan and I tell them that I have a solution for our inhaler, but you can't get it for any other inhaler and you have to work with a different company for that, it's not going to take off," he said at healthcare conference last week, according to MobiHealthNews, adding, "I would love it if David [Van Sickle] struck a deal with three or four of the other leading pharma companies in respiratory and we came to these payers with a whole package solution that included both brand and generic medication and any form factor the medication was delivered in."

- read the article in MobiHealthNews
- here's more from the CVS Health CEO

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