Wearable technology empowers patients with COPD

“I never smoked, and I saw Mom suffer while breathing even though she didn’t smoke,” said John Walsh, whose lungs operate at just 34 percent capacity. Walsh, 66, has alpha-1 antitrypsin genetic deficiency, which often causes chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). His mother died at 46 from this genetic condition, and several of his siblings are severely alpha-1-deficient. Walsh’s twin brother is at end stage COPD and maintains 15-16 percent lung capacity.

According to the World Health Organization, COPD is an umbrella term used to describe chronic lung diseases that cause limitations in lung airflow. Tobacco use and secondhand smoke are the primary risk factors. COPD patients, who experience difficulty breathing and frequent coughing and wheezing, require complicated therapies, supplemental oxygen and frequent hospital visits.

There’s increasing clinical evidence of the value of continuous vital sign data in managing chronic diseases and monitoring patients’ post-hospitalization. Consequently, a growing number of medical technologies are becoming wearable, including glucose, heart rate, blood pressure, blood oxygen saturation and pulse rate monitors. For example, wearable devices may empower people with a chronic disease such as COPD, which affects 24 million Americans, to live a more comfortable and independent life.

“I travel 272 days a year and I am on planes all the time,” Walsh said, who is the co-founder and president of the COPD Foundation in Washington, D.C. “My functional capacity is better today than it was 10 years ago. I credit that specifically to being able to get the information necessary to take some responsibility and be involved with my care.”

Blood oxygen saturation and heart rate are important data points to measure in COPD patients, especially since heart disease is related to the condition. “If we can monitor these factors, it’s going to help the individual better manage his/her health and help our healthcare providers understand if we are on the right medications,” said Walsh.

Regular exercise, for example, is an important path to health for COPD patients. Pam DeNardo, 71, was diagnosed with COPD in 1999 and her condition is a severe stage 3. She was told early in her diagnosis that exercise would be her best friend. “I took that advice to heart and have never stopped exercising. I credit exercise and taking my medications as instructed for my being able to do as well as I do,” DeNardo said. But now, wearable technology may be a close second best friend to a COPD patient.

“I believe in education, and if this wearable prototype could help me in the present and/or future, I would be very interested,” DeNardo said. “COPD brings with it many comorbidities, and knowing about these before they become a problem would be of great importance.”

Philips, in collaboration with Radboud University medical center in the Netherlands, introduced a wearable diagnostic prototype for COPD patients. Once a COPD patient leaves the hospital, the wearable prototype collects data day and night, including physical activity/inactivity, respiratory indication, heart rhythm and heart rate variability. The data is then sent via the cloud to the Philips HealthSuite Digital Platform where it is shared with the appropriate care providers, presenting a more complete view of the patient’s illness.

Increasing clinical evidence shows that such digital tools and cloud platforms may offer patients with chronic conditions, like COPD, new opportunities for improved health management and prevention, even from home.

With COPD, the more you can measure your condition throughout the day, the better you can manage your condition. Walsh believes wearable technology “is the advent of a completely new way to engage the patient and to be involved with their care, monitor their health and focus on living with COPD, not dying with COPD.”