Inhaling Information

A recent article in The Economist details a new product for asthmatics that will collect data on usage, with both time of dose and GPS geo-coordinates. This presents itself as a wonderfully interesting data acquistion and Data Mining problem. An example of how location and use dose could have been used to solve an asthma outbreak considers the case of Barcelona in 1985 and 1986.

IN 1985 and 1986 an epidemic of asthma hit Barcelona. The city’s researchers first turned to the usual suspects, such as air pollution, pollen and mould. But a series of telephone interviews with the sufferers pointed to a much more precise cause. All the attacks had occurred by the harbour, and at times when ships were unloading soya beans. The cause was clear: soya-bean dust. So was the solution: the installation of filters on the harbour’s silos.

A man with an idea founded a company to make a product to automate and discover and automate discover of similar instances.

To develop his idea, Dr Van Sickle left CDC and founded a company, Asthmapolis, which is based in Madison, Wisconsin. The result is Spiroscout, an inhaler with a built-in Global Positioning System locator and (in advanced models) a wireless link to the internet. Whenever someone uses the inhaler, it broadcasts the location and time to a central computer. Asthmapolis plots and analyses the data, and sends weekly reports to participating patients and their doctors summarising the observations and making recommendations.

If the privacy issues can be resolved, and I’m sure they won’t be considering the current political climate, then this strikes me a great example of technology really working to make lives better. Let’s hope the government doesn’t find a need to keep tabs on asthmatics for some made-up reason to be determined.

The device also monitors for inappropriate or unusual usage which may indicate a faulty prescription. It will be interesting to see how the drug companies react.

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