By Tom Ballard, Chief Alliance Officer, PYA
“Uncontrolled asthma leads to the big three health issues,” Laura Odom, Co-Founder of a Knoxville start-up named MedicApps, says in citing congestive heart failure, diabetes, and obesity.
The Clinical Assistant Professor of Nursing at the University of Tennessee’s (UT) Knoxville campus was a Nurse Practitioner for 11 years before launching the start-up that won this year’s “What’s the Big Idea?” competition for its BreatheEasyTM platform. It is the first in what she and Co-Founder Jeff Gotcher believe will be a series of product offerings to help improve individual health through an empowerment tool.
“I was working on my doctorate in nursing at Vanderbilt when my advisor suggested developing an app to help patients with asthma,” Odom told us. The idea struck a chord with the Knoxville native for several reasons.
From her years of work with the Allergy, Asthma and Sinus Center in Knoxville, Odom knew that two-thirds of asthma-related deaths are preventable, and asthma attacks account for 25 percent of all Emergency Room visits. She also knew that patients relied on quickly finding a piece of paper that that detailed their plan of care and specific steps to take in the event of what Odom characterized as “an asthma exacerbation.”
Why not bring the power and utility of mobile devices to a paper-based process and, as an important result, better connect patients and providers?
Three months after the conversation with her advisor, Odom had advanced the idea to the point that she was convinced a well-developed platform could significantly improve the process of an individual managing his or her asthma.
“By August of 2015, we had a working prototype of the app,” she said, explaining that the app is much more than simply a place to store information. It also connects the patient and the provider as a team to help manage the compliance process and better anticipate potential problems.
“In order to change behavior, you have to tie it in with the provider, so the patient knows someone is watching,” Odom says.
So, how does BreatheEasyTM work? Odom walked us through the process.
When someone is diagnosed as asthmatic, he or she will be prescribed with a set of medications to control their asthma. This includes both a daily “controller” medication and a rescue medication. In the past, the patient received a piece of paper that contained the list.
“With BreatheEasyTM, the plan of care will be directly loaded into the patient’s phone at the time of visit,” Odom explains. “The idea is for the provider to prescribe the medications and then have the nurse take these medications and assist the patient in downloading and programming the app.”
In the event of an asthma attack, the patient accesses the app to help them understand what medications or steps they need to take to control their symptoms. The patient can even call the healthcare provider directly from the app.
Odom notes that the app does much more than simply replace the piece of paper.
“The patient also receives a push notification once a week to ‘check in’ and take a four-question survey that will alert their healthcare provider as to the level of control of their asthma,” she explains. “The healthcare provider can access the patient information from a web dashboard that displays patient’s medication and their most recent CAST score.”
The official name of CAST is “Classifying Asthma Severity Test,” a tool that MedicApps is validating in a study at UT. It allows the provider to track trends and monitor patients if they should ever enter the RED zone that would indicate a severe asthma attack.
Gotcher, a serial entrepreneur and owner of a software development company, joined the effort in January 2015. MedicApps was formed as an LLC in June of that year.
Their business strategy involves working with insurance companies that will sponsor the app as a way to reduce their costs.