Growing field of 'geomedicine' offers great promise for asthmatics

For years, the Global Positioning System has served as a navigation service for hikers, boaters, and others in need of directions. However, now an epidemiologist has developed a novel solution for pinpointing the exact location and possible environmental causes of an asthma attack--an inhaler tagged with a GPS sensor that provides a user's location every time they use it to control asthma symptoms, the Washington Post reports.

Initially funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, David Van Sickle produced a number of prototypes and eventually founded Asthmapolis, a company that has continued to refine the device. Currently, the latest version of the inhaler is equipped with a smaller, Bluetooth-based device that sends usage information to a Web portal that can display when and where patients have used their inhalers.

The Asthmapolis inhaler is part of a "burgeoning field called geomedicine, according to the Post article. The inhaler uses geographic information system (GIS) technology to correlate environmental conditions with health risks." In July 2012, Van Sickle's GIS-enhanced inhaler received clearance as a medical device from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

AT&T Labs is working on its own wireless asthma sensor called Asthma Trigger that scans the air for compounds that may cause asthma symptoms, alerting patients via mobile devices. The sensor feeds air quality data through AT&T's healthcare information data exchange platform, enabling patients to receive alerts on their devices.

The company is also working on other solutions for asthmatics, including GPS and Wi-Fi-equipped inhalers, to help doctors track their patients' usage and epidemiologists monitor broader trends.

In addition, researchers from Saint Louis University and Harvard are creating an asthma alert messaging system that takes advantage of smartphone and web-based applications. The system, which will use Google Maps software, will send alerts to users when outdoor conditions are such that they potentially could cause an asthma attack.

To learn more:
- read the Washington Post article