Technology will in the next five years begin targeting treatments ‘in a much more efficient and safer way,’ says Dr Russell. So one person with COPD might be predicted to respond well to an implanted endobronchial valve, while another might be a promising match for a particular drug therapy.
Another further-off development towards more personal therapies could lie in modelling a patient’s own lung, using a swab of their cells. ‘It’s what’s called organs on a chip,’ says Dr Remi Villenave about his research, saying his modelled lungs are ‘about the size of a USB stick.’ Dr Villenave researched technology and COPD during a post-doctorate at Harvard, and has recently been involved in launching a medical tech start-up in Boston.
If a revolution in digital respiratory health is around the corner, it is still the way with revolutions that they tend to hit some countries before others.
The 2016 Future Health Index (FHI), released last June, looked at 13 countries, surveying a total of 2,659 doctors, surgeons, and nurses, along with 25,355 adult patients. Differences between countries, it turns out, are vast in terms of readiness to adopt digital technologies and connected models of care, combining a patient’s mobile with the cloud and – when needed – their doctors and nurses.
One pattern that appears is emerging countries–like the UAE and South Africa–are early adopters of digital health care. As has been the case with smartphone technologies in Africa, like mobile money, these countries have ‘leapfrogged’ others dealing with older legacy systems. In China, to take an example, 61 per cent of patients have devices, software, or apps to monitor their weight, compared to 29 per cent in France and 35 per cent in Sweden.
Back in Ireland, at the moment, Mrs O’Leary isn’t using any apps to manage her COPD – yet. But she may well be temptable.