Asthma affects 300 million people in the developed world alone, and incidence is increasing rapidly.
This asthma is often triggered by a reaction to allergens such as pollen, air pollution, and perfume. Because personal exposure to allergens is very difficult to gauge or predict, many asthmatics are forced simply to reduce their chances of exposure. This has an enormous impact on lifestyle—it’s fewer family visits to the playground, visiting shopping malls anxiously hoping for no perfume stores, and fewer opportunities for physical activity (a treatment for asthma).
It’s also difficult for asthmatics to accurately monitor and gauge their asthma day-to-day. Current methods include keeping a subjective asthma diary, or breathing into a PEP (exhalation) tester—which gives a rough proxy for asthma. Both methods are inaccurate, and the reality is most asthmatics keep no record whatsoever, so for doctors it’s incredibly difficult to prescribe an accurate medication plan. This results in too much or too little medication, little understanding of its effect, and typically as a consequence very poor compliance and unnecessarily reduced health.
Overall, the effect of allergic asthma is significantly inhibited lifestyle. Breathe.Easy tackles this premise and re-enables lifestyle through both accurate allergen prediction and accurate asthmatic inflammation monitoring.
Breathe.Easy was developed on a broad foundation of user research and medical expertise.
From the outset the designer (and university class) cooperated with Aerocrine, a specialist manufacturer of asthma diagnosis equipment, to understand the existing diagnosis situation and Aerocrine’s revolutionary asthma diagnosis technology.
The designer and class also conducted user interviews, held a focus group with the Swedish Asthma and Allergy Foundation’s local representatives, conducted working sessions with specialist asthma nurses to understand the user journey and medical issues, and interviewed a leading German asthma specialist doctor.
The designer also simulated asthma himself in an attempt to understand the situation first hand, and to gain empathy for the end users—breathing through a straw is considered a roughly accurate simulation of asthma, and was the technique used. It proved to be an insightful and highly motivational moving forward.
Throughout the project discussions were continued with potential users, in order to validate and hone the concept.
Overall the designer strove to understand the complete user journey and all stakeholder’s positions, from the initial diagnosis and user onboarding at a medical facility, through the everyday at-home and on-the-road use, to ongoing contact and feedback loops with medical professionals and concerned loved ones.
Breathe.Easy is a game-changer for allergic asthmatics. The intention is to re-enable lifestyle, and this is achieved through a combination of hardware, software, and service.
The foundation of the Breathe.Easy system is the Confidence smartphone app. This app makes previously unpredictable situations predictable, with real-time monitoring and location-based predictions. This allows millions of users to accurately know for example if a shopping mall is currently triggering asthma attacks, or whether air pollution will be a problem tomorrow.
The app uses cloud-based prediction software to integrate data from weather forecasters, medical services, and reported attacks from other users. For users with more serious asthma, a wearable allergen sensor complements the app, and this data is also crowdsourced for predictions.
Many users will also use the Inflammation Monitor, which uses low-cost, emerging clinical technology for accurate diagnosis—enabling daily testing and tailored dosages via matching adjustable inhalers. By coupling the Confidence app and Inflammation Monitor, correlations can also be drawn between specific allergen exposure and asthmatic inflammation over time.
For Aerocrine, brand presence and customer relationships can begin with the Confidence smartphone application, providing meaningful impact to almost all allergic asthmatics. From a minimal initial investment, users can upgrade with hardware as needed.
Breathe.Easy was designed to improve lifestyle, so a driving consideration was how exactly it would integrate with users’ lifestyles. To this end Breathe.Easy is designed to be unintrusive, simple, and offer peace of mind.
Unintrusive interventions: the Confidence app can run silently for days or weeks until its prediction service determines the user needs to be aware of a situation. Even then it will offer minimally intrusive interventions. For example if the immediate air pollution is becoming dangerous, it will give a pre-emptive warning e.g. action needs to be taken within 30 minutes, but not necessarily immediately. For this case, it can also suggest simply crossing the road (if wearing the sensor), because air pollution often concentrates on one side of the street.
Simple and peace of mind: the Confidence app demands as little user attention and thought as possible. It doesn’t present complicated data and unnecessary concerns, it simply provides what the user actually needs to know: “Looking Good, Enjoy Your Day”. If the user has a wearable sensor, it doesn’t put the onus on the user to consider bringing it, it’ll simply advise when the sensor is needed.
The physical design is also deliberate: ambiguous exterior, sensitive interior.