New Device Offers Asthmatic Youths More Freedom, Communication

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A UC Berkeley public health professor has come up with a new technological system to combat asthma.

Sylvia Guendelman's new "Health Buddy Interactive Device," a simple four-button gadget, allows children with asthma to communicate with medical staff concerning their symptoms via a constant telephone connection.

In addition to sending updated status reports from the individual patients, the device also provides asthma facts and related trivia to make the experience more enjoyable for the child.

Asthma, one of three chronic diseases with an increasing death rate, claims the lives of 14 people in the United States each day. Affecting one out of every 20 children, it ranks as the most common chronic childhood disease.

Recent asthma studies have shown that asthma also tends to disproportionately afflict children from

low socioeconomic backgrounds, particularly inner-city children that are not exposed to the optimal environment or proper medical treatment that can make asthma preventable.

Guendelman's study, designed to deal with such disparities, distributed the devices among 66 inner-city children and compared them with a control group of 66 other children from the same demographic area, who were given a more standard treatment recommended by the American Lung Institute, under which the patient records their symptoms and feelings in an "asthma diary."

"Children don't like a daily log," Guendelman said. "If you are a kid, you don't understand what the importance of it is, so kids aren't that motivated to use it."

After a 90-day trial, the children who used the new Health Body device had significantly lower instances of activity limitation, school absences, health service utilization, peak flow, and asthma symptoms.

The results were published in the February issue of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine.

Additionally, the intervention group was less likely to have peak flow readings in the yellow or red zones, indicating a decreased need for urgent medical attention, and showed self-management behaviors by placing less urgent calls to the hospital.

Guendelman will continue researching the topic, saying she believes that it may have potential to be used more widely with asthmatic children.

"(We will) try to look at some symptoms and use of services in more detail," she said. "I think we need to see how health plans might want to adopt this technically."


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