AireHealth, a company offering an in-home virtual solution for patients with respiratory diseases, won the first-ever National Association of Specialty Pharmacy (NASP) Challenge after completing several stages, including a Shark Tank-style presentation.
Stacie Ruth, co-founder and CEO of AireHealth, said the company’s pitch included 3 pieces of technology brought together under the name VitalBreath. The solution includes a nebulizer, a connected dual sensor spirometer, and a platform designed to help manage chronic diseases, such as asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
More than 150 million people have chronic respiratory diseases, Ruth said in her presentation, and common issues among this population include delayed diagnosis and treatment, poor medication adherence, and unnecessary hospitalizations. She added that respiratory conditions are the top claim made against the payer system, resulting in approximately $130 billion spent each year on these diseases.
As a potential solution, Ruth said the VitalBreath technology provides data insights for improved adherence, can work with specialized, high-value drugs delivered via nebulizer, and can lower health care costs. Ruth noted that the device is portable and smaller than a deck of cards with no outlet needed. She concluded the presentation by explaining that VitalBreath has a competitive advantage over other nebulizers in the industry, both by focusing on more critical patients with COPD or other severe diseases and with its ability to intervene with a patient by collecting immediate data.
Patient centrality is essential to creating a digital health tool, Ruth said in an interview. The use of analytics is essential, both to keep health professionals up-to-date about their patients and to inform those patients’ care to improve outcomes.
“What I would really like to do is to appeal a little bit more to the pharmaceutical side of the industry and really highlight the fact that good digital health tools are patient centered,” she said.
Following her brief presentation, Ruth faced questions from the judges. Mike Einodshofer, MBA, chief pharmacy officer at Maxor National Pharmacy Services, asked whether the team at AireHealth has compared their nebulizer times to other commercially available nebulizers. Ruth said comparable nebulizers on the market take approximately 10 to 12 minutes to deliver a 3 mL dose, whereas VitalBreath has an average time of 7 to 9 minutes for a 3 mL does.
Judge Natalie Bedford, executive director of US market access channel at AstraZeneca, asked how Ruth expects the device to impact patient adherence. Although the company has not conducted its own research yet, Ruth said other research has shown significant adherence improvements when patients have at-home, connected nebulizers. She added that the pilots launching in January will investigate adherence further.
AireHealth will be featured on a NASP webinar available to its more than 2000 members and will be featured on the NASP podcast. In addition, the device will be featured in this year’s post-meeting marketing materials and the company will receive 2 complimentary passes to the 2021 NASP Annual Meeting and Expo as well as a 10% discount on an exhibit booth at next year’s meeting.
Although Ruth said they are “thrilled” to have won, she said getting digital health recognized in the broader health care market is even more exciting.
“Even as much as it’s wonderful that we won, what’s probably an even bigger impact in the market is the fact that the digital health world is being recognized by both the industry and NASP,” Ruth said.
Other finalists in the challenge included a medication adherence device, a digital health platform focused on connecting patients with nutritionists, software aimed at simplifying administrative paperwork, and an app that translates medical instructions for patients with language barriers.
Abigail Ballou, Alexandra David, Shreya Iyer and Casey Nugent contributed to this story.
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