Healthcare has a peculiar relationship with consumer technology.
While providers understand the need to remain agile, healthcare delivery systems have been generally slow on the digital uptake. On the whole, the consumer tech industry has lagged behind in meeting today’s expectations of healthcare convenience.
Many apps on the market promise to guide users through various health treatments; be it tackling obesity or smoking. However, very few of these platforms provide significant follow through. Think tank The Decision Lab believes that technology-driven interventions, while more user accessible, often fall short in instilling long-lasting change. Further studies similarly suggest that these apps are ‘merely facilitators, rather than drivers of change’. Instead of focusing health engagement strategies, these apps emphasise on commercialisation through features.
Digital Apps and COVID-19 Care
The COVID-19 crisis highlighted the need for individuals to take charge of their own health journeys. The closure of physical doctor surgeries has inspired many to take individual responsibility for managing their health. In response to the pandemic, patients and remote workers have chosen to monitor and modify their behaviours, in order to maintain good health. As a result, plethora of apps and platforms have been launched to cater for an emerging health consciousness.
Although smartphone apps have become an integral part of the Zeitgeist, we are yet to see the healthcare equivalent of Uber or AirBnB enter the digital ecosystem. Given the current focus on well-being, it is a wonder that a high-value care offering has not yet captured consumer engagement.
The Problem with Current Care Offerings for Long-Term COVID-19 Sufferers
The digital ecosystem is now responding to this need with vigour. Several apps, including the NHS’ own Track and Trace offering, provide facilities to manage coronavirus symptoms and personal safety. However, only a few developers have turned their attention to the small but rising patient group who are experiencing long-term COVID-19 symptoms.
As of 2021, over 300,000 people have suffered from the COVID-19 virus. Due to the unprecedented rise in infections, hospitals turning patients away from acute care clinics. As a result, infection survivors are turned away and left to manage their symptoms independently. A survey conducted by University College London (UCL) found that over 67% of these survivors feel ‘abandoned’ by public healthcare systems.
With little in the way of publicly provided rehabilitation tools, COVID-19 survivors still experience debilitating respiratory symptoms, anxiety and fatigue in months post-infection. For these patients, the primary mode of non-invasive respiratory support is the use of CPAP masks. The NHS currently advocates the use of CPAP masks for patients ‘who will not benefit from critical care admission’. In line with NICE guidelines, this form of treatment is only afforded to ‘acute care, elderly care and palliative care teams’. As such, other patient groups are left out of the loop for significant treatment streams.
An App for All: Breathe Simple
Tony Warren, the mind behind the Breathe Simple app, is pioneering solutions for this under-represented group. As a successful entrepreneur and academic, Tony had developed multiple solutions healthcare solutions in the past. According to Tony, an innate ‘curiosity for all possibilities’ and a drive to improve the lives of others, inspired him to develop Breathe Simple.
Tony’s journey in developing Breathe Simple was, unfortunately, instigated by a health affliction. After spending weeks in hospital, due experiencing a mini-stroke, Tony decided to take charge of his own rehabilitation. Research revealed to him that the first instances of mini-stroke are often caused by sleep disturbance. Specifically, they are incited by common respiratory and sleep disorders, such as sleep apnea and asthma.
For Tony, the next step towards recovery was a pragmatic one. He contacted clinical researchers in Australia, who recommended that he try breathing exercises. As a result, Tony ‘never suffered from sleep apnea again’.
‘This is how it all started. My colleague in Australia sent me breathing exercises that mimic the interruptions that you get in your sleep, which are caused by your brain. Through neuro-plastic change, the exercises allow you to train your brain to detect an apnea event, and amend it.’
Collaborating to Help People Breathe Better
Tony’s work with Penn State University, Halare and Strategic Technologies LLC, have allowed him to build up the impressive Breathe Simple team to help long-term patients. He approached four bright Penn State students with an idea that could change respiratory treatment – from just a click on swipe on a smart phone.
‘Friends from academia and healthcare worked with me to build Breathe Simple from the ground up. Eventually, the technology caught up with the idea, and suddenly the pieces fell into place. We decided to use the camera on smartphones to detect how you breathe. The mass amount of computing power in mobile cameras allowed us to create an accessible and low-cost product. Something that anyone, anywhere could use’
Patience in waiting for the right technology to emerge allowed Tony and the Breathe Simple teams to develop the best solution for respiratory issues. Specifically, it allowed them to directly address the ‘distress’ caused by using traditional respiratory equipment. Anyone who has used a CPAP mask before knows how uncomfortable and off-putting they can be. The NHS itself has recognised that the ‘distress’ caused by CPAP masks and helmets, along with inappropriate and judicious treatment doses. According to its own guidelines, the ‘key to successful use of CPAP’ is ‘patient tolerance’.
Breathe Simple: The Champion App for Long-Covid Sufferers
Due to the dearth of facilities provided to long-COVID sufferers, Tony decided to enter the Breathe Simple app into the larger digital ecosystem. Acknowledging the lack of public coordination for long-term treatment endeavours, the team made the app available on the App Store. Tony stated that this decision was based in recognising the need to offer alternative treatments to those who were denied it.
‘This is something we need to do to look after these people. We do not have enough capacity to treat long-term sufferers’
Fortunately, the app’s user experience is incredibly simple. Designed to be used and accessed with ease, Breathe Simple can be downloaded and utilised through any smart device.
‘The app asks new users important questions, to assess their current state of health. Height, weight, sleeping pattern and diet all impact respiration, and the app provides a brief overview of the user journey going forward. By analysing the user phenotype, the app curates a bespoke breathing treatment plan, just for you.’
Most importantly, the Breathe Simple app simplifies respiratory research and provides actionable solutions for patients.
‘The user allows you to benefit from the breathing exercises for four days. We will teach you how to use your diaphragm, educate you via available talks on the importance of breathing. At the end of the four days, the users should be using their nose and diaphragm better. Most importantly, they will know how to hold their breath correctly.’
According to Tony, ‘entrepreneurs are usually too early; and the world catches up with them’. Future plans for the Breathe Simple team include rolling out the app to public healthcare services. Tony intends to improve condition management for all users, to help them recover safely and comfortably.
‘The problem is, that there are simply not enough therapists to cater for the COVID-19 patient population. The Breathe Simple app allows long-term sufferers to manage their condition from the safety of their homes’
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