My career started at Manchester Royal Infirmary, working as a nurse and later as a midwife. When the option to do a Masters degree in Health Promotion came up, I jumped at the chance for a new challenge and opportunity to learn more.
I held a number of research assistant roles at the University of Manchester, including work on asthma and Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) projects with Professor Ann-Louise Caress, before studying for my PhD.
In my current role as a research associate on the COPD use case, I get to work with Ann again (she is the principal investigator on the project) and the insights I gained previously are already proving invaluable.
A smarter approach
We’re looking at how we can use a smartphone app and smart inhaler in combination with sensors positioned within the participants’ homes that monitor humidity, temperature and movement.
We know that very cold, hot, or dry air can trigger a COPD flare-up, and that exercise can have a positive effect on symptoms, so the information from sensors located in the home will be useful in tracking these data points.
Inhaler technique can have a huge impact on the effectiveness of the medication. The smart inhaler will indicate with a green light when it has been shaken enough.
Similarly, it’s difficult to know when a standard inhaler is running on empty. The smart inhaler will alert the user when the active ingredient is running low and it’s time to order a new prescription.
The information won’t be monitored continually by clinical staff, but will be given to participants to share with their clinicians and help them self-manage their condition. Those looking for moral support will also have the option to send automatic alerts to family and friends.
So far, I’ve been involved in a number of stakeholder meetings to assess the acceptability of the technology we are proposing to use. The feedback we’ve had from these meetings has been invaluable.
On the whole, the response has been positive. We’ve identified a couple of small tweaks we can make to the smart inhaler, and we’re also looking into adding a map feature to the smartphone app to identify COPD-friendly social venues.
We now know that we also need to take a flexible approach.
People have told us, for instance, that they wouldn’t necessarily want to use all the sensors. The protocol will allow for people to take part without necessarily consenting to the use of every sensor.
As well as finalising the protocol, my current priorities include the application for ethical approval, which is required before we can start recruitment.
Our COPD project is part of a unique IoT technology programme taking place in Manchester. As the first project of its kind, our COPD use case is a fantastic opportunity to make a positive difference for people with COPD – and it’s something I’m very proud to be involved in.
There’s no doubt that it’ll provide new and very valuable insights into how technology can be used to more proactively manage the symptoms of COPD.