The COPD app will help to alleviate exacerbations

The COPD app will help to alleviate exacerbations
Image credit: Kanawa_Studio/Getty Images

A recent feasibility study has shown that an app for people with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) that promotes self-managed treatment can help minimize exacerbations.

A lady pressing phone
Image credit: Kanawa_Studio/Getty Images

New research has found that the use of a self-management app can help people with COPD.

The feasibility report, which appears in the npj Digital Medicine journal, lays the basis for future research. The next steps will be to validate the initial findings and gain a deeper understanding of the processes behind the results that are promising.


COPD identifies a variety of disorders, which include emphysema and chronic bronchitis, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). In these cases, the airways become blocked, resulting in trouble breathing for the person.

Currently 15.7 million individuals in the United States have been diagnosed with COPD, equating to approximately 6.4% of the population.

Smoking is a primary cause of COPD, but research has also linked the disease, as well as genetic factors, to respiratory infections and exposure to air pollutants.

COPD can have a major negative impact on the life of a person. It may cause problems getting about including ascending stairs, and may hinder the ability of an individual to work and socialize. COPD has also been related by experts to mental health conditions, including depression.

The high rate of readmission following care in the hospital is one of the obstacles for health providers dealing with individuals with COPD.

The authors of the present study state that when they experience a “acute crisis”, for example, a sudden worsening of their symptoms, people with COPD usually receive care in the hospital. The hospital usually discharges the person following the resolution of the acute crisis.

This can however, leave little time for healthcare practitioners to help the client and in the first place, resolve the underlying causes that triggered the acute crisis.

Research has shown that providing individuals with the means to self-manage their COPD while at home will decrease their hospital readmission rate. It can however be beyond the resources available to many publicly supported hospitals to provide this service.

As a result, the authors of the present study wanted to see if this help could be provided by a COPD self-management app.

Feasibility study

The authors performed a feasibility analysis to start to discuss this. They approached 124 people who were admitted to hospital due to COPD between June and December 2015 at a National Health Service (NHS) site in the United Kingdom.

Of these individuals, 41 agreed to take part in the research. Each participant was allocated by the researchers randomly to one of two groups. Standard written self-management advice was given to those in the first group, while the other group had access to the myCOPD app.

The team monitored both groups for 3 months.

In order to help people control their COPD, the myCOPD app provides educational resources and advice, including a 6-week pulmonary recovery program, videos showing good inhaler strategies, and environmental pollution and weather warnings. It also helps healthcare professionals to remotely monitor the health of an individual.

Fewer exacerbations, better inhaler technique

The researchers found that COPD exacerbations were about half as frequent in the group who gained access to the myCOPD app than in the group seeking care as normal. Instead of 34 for the control group, they registered 18 exacerbations for the myCOPD group.

Compared to the control group, myCOPD patients have saw substantial gains in the inhaler procedure, having an 80 percent reduction in incorrect use compared to a 28 percent drop in the control group.

Although these findings are promising, it is necessary to remember that this was a limited study of feasibility.

In addition, the analysis did not specify what might drive the positive outcomes and how relevant they could be to other COPD individuals.

The authors note, for example, that of the 124 individuals they invited to take part in the research, 66 declined without giving any explanation.

If a large number of these individuals were put off by the use of digital technology, if the software was made compulsory for all COPD patients, whether they were comfortable using digital technology or not the results would not be as promising.

Nevertheless the study makes it clear that for future studies, a self-management app might be a worthwhile subject.

“The transition to digital healthcare has been taking place for some time, but has intensified since the outbreak of COVID-19,” states Prof. Tom Wilkinson of the University of Southampton, U.K., who created the software and led the trial.

“Patients with conditions such as COPD can be particularly vulnerable now, so it is important that we have evidence of the effectiveness of these technologies.”

– Prof. Tom Wilkinson

Prof. Wilkinson concludes, “Hopefully, the success of this will lead to further use and development of similar products that allow patients to treat other conditions and further enhance their well-being and reduce the NHS burden.”