Telemedicine Technology Provides Safety Net to Vulnerable COPD Patients from Current Flu Season

Many industry experts have noticed a higher need for flu support this year, and we are on target to be a record breaking year for the flu. This year’s flu season in the United States is trending worse than the 2009 swine flu pandemic, as evidenced by the number of Americans visiting clinics or emergency rooms and crowding hospital beds and hallways with flu-like symptoms.

The flu season usually frightens those who suffer with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) — people who have compromised lung function and are at a high risk for getting influenza.  But a number of COPD patients in Philadelphia and in other parts of the country who are usually scared of the flu, are less anxious.

They’re using advanced mobile technology developed by Philadelphia-based HGE Health and offered through subscriptions paid for by hospitals like Temple Lung Center at Temple University Hospital in Philadelphia and payers like Health Partners Plans of Philadelphia, coupled with a communications regimen that’s keeping them healthier and much less anxious about the flu.

And, therefore, keeping them out of emergency rooms, hospitals and doctor’s offices.

“COPD patients in general experience fear and anxiety about breathing every day, 365 days of the year,” said Michael J. Markus, PhD., CEO of HGE Health, a healthcare technology company that works worldwide with pulmonary surgeons and physicians.  “The flu season usually takes that anxiety to another level.  When the flu is prevalent and COPD patients have trouble breathing, they often panic, which leads to heightened anxiety, making it even harder for these patients to breathe.  This breathlessness-anxiety-breathlessness cycle drives many patients to the doctor or the hospital more often than needed because they can’t distinguish the symptoms of anxiety from the symptoms of COPD.  But we’ve found a way to effectively break that cycle.”

Following a decade of clinical research, HGE Health launched a digital telemedicine platform and mobile app that enables physicians to remotely manage patients more closely and make it easy to adjust treatment therapies as new or differing COPD and medical issues arise.   With or without the flu.

The technology and process are simple.  Pulmonary patients use their smartphone, which securely communicates to the HGE Health platform, to report their daily COPD symptoms to their physician who has the option of making immediate changes in treatment.  A prospective, randomized, controlled study found that patients who did this and received same-day treatment experienced more symptom-free days and fewer, typically less severe, exacerbations (a worsening of symptoms) when they do occur.

The easy, quick response by both physician and patient makes all the difference.

“Our technology has enabled patients and physicians to monitor these symptoms daily and change care plans rapidly, addressing medical issues before they get more complicated,” Markus explained.  “The daily connectivity with physicians, which the HGE Care Plus platform encourages, means better management of symptoms and early warnings on any new symptoms, far less patient anxiety and dramatic decreases in the need for patients to seek other medical help during flu season.  Our patients feel reassured that their caregiver is engaged and that any flare-up will be tackled same-day.  It keeps patients in a better state of mind and health and out of the hospital, meaning lower medical costs for everyone.”

In fact, in a recent survey of over 500 HGE Care Plus patients, more than 92% confirmed the tool helped them avoid or reduce their need to go to the emergency room or urgent care center, 91% confirmed reporting their symptoms daily helped them better understand and manage their COPD, and 76% of those reported that using the technology – which provides same day access to their physician for worsening symptoms – improved their quality of life.

The technology is currently being used by thousands of patients and their physicians – as well as payor and provider networks — in 16 locations across the US and Europe.

It has also proven invaluable at keeping lung transplant patients stable and on wait lists pre-surgery and in mitigating post-surgery pulmonary complications.  Additionally, it has allowed transplant centers to greatly broaden the geographic footprint from which transplant patients travel.