The COVID-19 pandemic has put lung health firmly in our minds. For those with chronic lung diseases, such as asthma and COPD, an important way to keep track of lung health is to use a spirometer to measure how well air can move in and out of the lungs during forced breathing. However, patients would typically attend with a lung specialist to perform this test. This is inconvenient and precludes regular monitoring to keep a close eye on lung health and spot any upcoming disease exacerbation.
This is the motivation behind this latest technology, an at-home digital spirometer, created by a medical startup called Aluna. The device is easy to use, requiring the patient to blow into it daily, and the company envisages the technology as similar to the blood-glucose tests used by patients with diabetes to keep track of their condition.
To increase patient compliance, and to make the process more fun, the system also includes computer games that incentivize the patient to use the device regularly and share their lung health data with their clinician.
See a video about the system below:
Medgadget had the opportunity to speak with Charvi Shetty, Co-Founder and CEO at Aluna, about the technology.
Conn Hastings, Medgadget: Please give us a brief overview of respiratory diseases, and their consequences for patients.
Charvi Shetty, Aluna: Forty one million patients suffer from chronic respiratory conditions in the US, while 25 million suffer from asthma and 16 million suffer from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Respiratory conditions like asthma and COPD impact the ability to breathe, making daily activities difficult through symptoms such as coughing and wheezing. Left uncontrolled and improperly managed, these conditions can progress to attacks that lead to avoidable ED visits and hospitalization. Unfortunately, COVID can cause symptoms for patients with chronic lung conditions to worsen severely.
Medgadget: Please speak to the importance of regular monitoring for such patients.
Charvi Shetty: Regular monitoring of lung conditions allows for early intervention, similar to a blood glucose monitor for patients with diabetes. Patients and providers can see the effectiveness of their treatment plan and modify their plan based on a full understanding of their lung health. Aluna’s goal is to modernize spirometry and make it accessible to more patients in order to prevent attacks and hospitalizations.
Medgadget: How is such monitoring performed at present? How is this suboptimal?
Charvi Shetty: For decades, a patient would visit a lung specialist to view their current lung health by doing in office spirometry. At best, this was done occasionally and it doesn’t provide that long-term, daily assessment that’s needed to provide the best care.
With Aluna, patients can now use our portable device and see real time data on their lung health along with medication usage, symptom scores and other factors. Doctors can now intervene earlier and more effectively in managing their patients’ care.
Medgadget: What inspired you to design an at-home spirometer? Who is it intended for?
Charvi Shetty: It started off as a capstone project at UC Berkeley where a UCSF doctor shared the unmet need around monitoring and predicting the onset of respiratory attacks for people suffering from chronic lung conditions like asthma and COPD. I grew up seeing my mom miss work and brother getting pneumonia triggered by asthma as a child, and while prototyping Aluna, I discovered that I had asthma quite by accident. I was supposed to be the healthy control group but my spirometer readings revealed disease. My co-founder, Indy, grew up with asthma as a child, so this is a problem that’s very close to our founding team.
This process revealed a deep unmet need for monitoring chronic respiratory conditions at home. There was no accurate and reliable way to measure objective measurements outside of the hospital, so we built it. Best of all, it can be used for all chronic lung conditions, so our reach goes way beyond asthma.
Medgadget: Please give us an overview of the system and how it works.
Charvi Shetty: Aluna is an FDA-cleared portable, digital spirometer that accurately measures a patients’ respiratory functions and gives remote access to their lung health. It has hospital level accuracy along with machine learning technology that makes a patient feel like they have a respiratory therapist coaching them along the way, for better engagement.
Aluna collects patients’ medication usage, symptoms and allows doctors to better manage their patients’ care outside the office. Doctors can now see if medications are working and start to learn a patient’s triggers to better manage their lung health. There is a provider dashboard which allows the device and the app to work together to collect a broad set of data (medications, symptoms, environmental factors) for broad home health monitoring.
Medgadget: How do the games in the system help with compliance and engagement?
Charvi Shetty: Aluna originally started off as a pediatric app, and as part of that focus, we created a game that encouraged children to want to use Aluna. What we’ve learned is that this type of mechanism helps adults too! The way your Apple Watch buzzes or lights up when you achieve a fitness goal feels good in the moment, so it keeps you motivated in between the larger, longer-term objectives. Aluna is a lot like this. We want patients to look forward to sharing their lung health data with their doctor for greater compliance and better outcomes long-term.