More than 16 million Americans have been diagnosed with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) — a group of conditions that cause breathing-related problems. In 2017, 923,000 patients went to the emergency room for COPD, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
To prevent hospitalizations, Orlando, Florida-based startup AireHealth sees an opportunity to help patients contact a physician sooner and stick to their medications. The digital health startup is in the process of developing a connected nebulizer to help patients track medication adherence and take note of what triggers their symptoms.
Judges picked AireHealth as the winner of the MedCity INVEST Digital Health Pitch Perfect contest for home health.
“We can help people maintain their own health and get a second set of eyes in their home without the first doctor being in the emergency department,” AireHealth CEO and Co-Founder Stacie Ruth said in a phone interview.
Before starting the company, Stacie Ruth had worked for Royal Philips for two decades, first in selling patient monitoring systems, and later as a general manager. She got her first taste of entrepreneurship when she had the opportunity to lead a startup within the company.
“I loved it,” she said
She left Philips in 2017 after meeting co-founder Jason Eichenholz, who had created a small, portable nebulizer and gotten it FDA cleared. A year later, they co-founded AireHealth, with the idea of making a connected product.
The startup is currently working to get FDA clearance for a connected version of the device.
AireHealth isn’t the only digital health company looking at respiratory conditions. Propeller Health, for example, makes sensors that can be attached to inhalers for managing asthma and COPD.
Nebulizers work a little bit differently, in that they aerosolize the liquid medication, turning it into a fine mist. They’re used more often with very young or older patients, or sometimes as a complement to an inhaler, Ruth said.
AireHealth’s system includes the connected device, a patient-facing app and its analytics engine. Patients can use it to keep track of when they took their medication and when their symptoms returned. For example, if a patient knows they do well in the two hours after taking their medicine, they could plan a walk or other activities during that time.
Ruth said it also includes a button that patients can push to contact a provider.
“We’re looking to give that doctor more insight and the person a second set of eyes that they need to understand what’s going on,” she said.
AireHealth plans to launch its connected product early next year.