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Can good product development save lives?

By admin - Last updated: Monday, March 19, 2012

I know.  Most people don’t normally think about product developers as life savers.  But here’s the thing.  I recently found out that the majority of people don’t get the therapeutic benefit they are supposed to get from their inhaler if they suffer from the increasingly common condition of asthma.

Studies show that, whilst the concept of using a standard asthma inhaler (known in drug deliverycircles as a metered dose inhaler, or MDI), is relatively straightforward, in practice only 25% of the population actually use it correctly.  Put another way, the drug you think you are taking to treat your condition doesn’t actually get delivered to the parts of the lung where it does any good.   In turn, someone ends up in an A&E department every seven minutes in the UK alone and, according to estimates from Asthma UK, 75% of these admissions are avoidable and as many as 90% of deaths from asthma are preventable.  The figures in the United States are no better, where 5,000 people visit the emergency room due to asthma every day.

With the prevalence of asthma growing around the globe, already affecting around 235 million, we think it’s a problem that needs addressing.

The latest generation of inhalers is, of course, a great improvement on the standard MDI, which has been with us since the 1950s.  Medical technology development since then has made many leaps and bound.  Whilst this new generation is much more effective at delivering life-saving drug effectively, there remains the problem that the vast majority of asthma sufferers still receive the standard MDI to treat their condition.  So what can be done to help them?

We think the answer lies in proper training for this potentially life-saving device.  If you are given any training today, it is mainly performed through observation and, as the results show, it’s generally ineffective.  So we set about working out whether relatively simple technology could make a difference.

One of the things that sets Cambridge Consultants apart from other product developers is we have all the engineering skills you need under one roof to undertake truly innovative product development.  By combining specialists in human factors, user interface design, mechanical and electronics engineering, wireless communication, software development and drug delivery, we were able to quickly create the T-Haler concept.

The results were, frankly, stunning.

After just three minutes of training using a computer game and a specially modified training inhaler, we were able to improve correct usage from around one in five, to more than three in five.  That’s not bad for just three minutes, and without the need for a medical professional to be present.

The technology is relatively low cost to deploy, the inhaler could be simply posted or picked up from a pharmacy when you get your medicine, and we estimate the training inhaler could be made in volume for less than $5 a unit.  Just as easily, the software could be delivered directly to your smartphone, so that you can keep an eye on how you are doing from time to time.  We even think the cost of providing such a training aide would easily be outweighed by the massive cost savings that correct device usage would generate for already stretched healthcare providers.   We now wait to see how the healthcare industry reacts and whether anyone is prepared to take this concept further.

A short video of the T-Haler concept can be found on here.  Until training video’s like T-haler are widely available, great advice is available on the web if you want to try and improve on your inhaler use technique.  A good starting point can be found on the Asthma UK website.


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