US: Epidemiologist David Van Sickle spent years studying asthma, but like many researchers of the chronic disease, he was frustrated by the obstacles to determining precise triggers of an individual attack. That frustration gave him an idea for a rescue inhaler topped with a GPS sensor. The invention would map the user”s location every time he took a puff and send that information back to his doctor.Such a device, Van Sickle thought, would give doctors data about when and where attacks occurred, helping them figure out possible environmental causes and allowing them to plan treatment accordingly.
In 2006, he began work on a prototype, an endeavor that turned out to be harder than he had imagined, chiefly because the sensor attachment had to be as durable as the inhalers themselves, which are often jostled around in pants pockets and handbags.
Van Sickle and his team continued to fine-tune the technology, forming the start-up company Asthmapolis in 2008. The latest version of the inhalers is equipped with a smaller, Bluetooth-based device that sends usage information to a Web portal where maps show when and where patients have used their inhalers.
The Asthmapolis inhaler is part of a burgeoning field called geomedicine, which GIS technology to correlate environmental conditions with health risks. The hope is that this data, integrated into a patient”s medical history, will help doctors and researchers fine-tune their diagnoses and treatments.
“Place should be a vital sign,” said Ethan Berke, a spatial epidemiologist at Dartmouth Medical School in Hanover and a family physician.
Doctors have long connected place and health, Berke said, pointing to John Snow, often called the father of modern epidemiology for his work linking London”s 1854 cholera outbreak to drinking water contaminated by raw sewage. But today, technology has given them more precise and powerful ways to understand role of location in patients” health.
“I would love it if I could bring up [a] map and see the grocery stores, parks” that patients have recently visited “right there while you are checking their blood pressure,” Berke says. Such information would allow him to better tailor his medical advice based on a patient”s lifestyle.”I can do that now, but I don”t have many GIS tools in the exam room.”
Since many medical conditions, including diabetes and heart disease, are linked to diet and lifestyle, doctors such as Berke who embrace geomedicine think more insight into their patients” lives will help them give advice that will be followed. If a heart attack patient, for instance, lives on the side of mountain on a narrow country lane with no sidewalks, it may be counterproductive to suggest taking daily walks around the block.
Source: Daily Democrat