Digital health tools were a major theme during the NASP Challenge, a competition designed to spur innovation and creative ideas for specialty pharmacy.
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.1
The competition launched on May 18, 2020, to encourage innovation in specialty pharmacy. The winner was announced during the NASP 2020 Annual Meeting & Expo Virtual Experience, held September 14 to 18. According to NASP, the challenge is a unique opportunity to identify innovative ideas and creative solutions focused on enhancing the specialty pharmacy patient journey by overcoming barriers to medication adherence and improving clinical and economical patient outcomes.2
According to Sheila M. Arquette, RPh, NASP executive director, the challenge is also designed to foster connectivity among specialty pharmacy industry stakeholders and encourage the exploration of additional partnerships and synergies.2
Stacie Ruth, cofounder and CEO of AireHealth, said the company’s winning pitch included 3 pieces of technology brought together under the name Vital- Breath. 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).1
More than 150 million individuals 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.1
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. She 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 through its ability to intervene with a patient by collecting immediate data.1
Patient centrality is essential to creating a digital health tool, Ruth said in an interview with Pharmacy Times®. The use of analytics is essential, to both keep health professionals up-to-date about their patients and inform those patients’ care to improve outcomes.
“What I would really like to do is 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,” Ruth 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 with 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 the same dose.1
Judge Natalie Bedford, executive director of the US market access channel at AstraZeneca, asked how Ruth expects the device to affect patient adherence. Although the company has not conducted its own research yet, Ruth said other research has shown significant improvements in adherence when patients have at-home, connected nebulizers. She added that the pilots launching in January 2021 will investigate adherence further.1
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 VitalBreath device will be featured in this year’s postmeeting marketing materials, and the company will receive 2 complimentary passes to NASP’s 2021 annual meeting and expo as well as a 10% discount on an exhibit booth at next year’s meeting.2
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,” she 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.1