Australian App solution to breathing exercises shows promise

by | What We're Talking About

Researchers from the Queensland University of Technology have developed an app which can be used in place of incentive spirometry devices.  These are mechanical devices people blow into with push back resistance which helps to keep the lungs open and well drained of fluid.  They’re used in people with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and cystic fibrosis, and most commonly after major surgery to prevent pneumonia.

These devices are widely used both in and out of hospitals and are fundamental in managing some lung conditions. With the new app, patients could potentially achieve the same benefits and do their breathing exercises by breathing into their smart phone.

The researchers compared their app to a standard spirometry device, in 24 healthy adults. They were measuring how ‘useable’ the app was, how effective and efficient it was and user satisfaction. They looked at how long people could keep blowing into the device and then the app, and how far away the phone had to be held from the mouth when using the app. They also conducted interviews with the participants for feedback.

They found that there was no significant difference between how long people could breathe out when using the app compared to the standard device. They also found that the participants could easily hold their phones at the recommended distance for their breath to be picked up and were able to follow along with the app’s instructions while being held and used. All the participants found the app to be user-friendly.

One drawback was that while most participants thought they needed to use similar effort with the app and the device, four thought they didn’t need to use as much effort with the app (more effort is beneficial to get the most benefit in these exercises). Three thought the on-screen instructions were hard to understand. Features of the app that ‘gamified’ the exercises (a timer and a breath-counter) were found to increase motivation in three quarters of the participants.

Apps are increasingly being explored in the medical field and provide an opportunity to increase access and reduce costs for patients. If they can achieve similar results to traditional devices, as early results suggest with this app, there is an opportunity to significantly shift the non-drug management of medical conditions like COPD.