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Australian first: novel app to help young people control asthma

2 May 2017
New tech gives people the power to self-manage their asthma

A new mobile application (app) launched on World Asthma Day will support young people to manage their asthma and improve their quality of life.

A young woman using her smartphone. Image: Pexels.

Eleven percent of young Australians have asthma, one of the highest rates in the world. Currently there are no evidence-based, co-designed apps on the market to support them.

This is the first asthma app to use a co-design model, with young people actively involved in deciding the app’s content and design.

Asthma Australia funded a team of researchers, clinicians and app developers led by the University of Sydney to create the app. They collaborated with a group of young people with asthma as co-developers, who named the app Kiss My Asthma.

Asthma Australia commissioned the project following a 2014 survey of more than 500 12-25 year-olds with asthma that found 63 percent had poorly controlled asthma, 52 percent were likely to experience mental health issues and 56 percent said asthma limits their enjoyment of life.

We chose the University of Sydney to develop this novel platform because they put young people at the heart of the development process
Asthma Australia CEO Michele Goldman

Kiss My Asthma focuses on asthma management and asthma goals. Users receive notifications from a cast of monster characters who provide friendly reminders and opportunities to adjust goals to keep users on track.

Michele Goldman, CEO of Asthma Australia said: “We chose the University of Sydney to develop this novel platform because they put young people at the heart of the development process, which is vital for the app to effectively address their needs.

“Asthma affects 1 in 9 young Australians and the National Young People and Asthma Survey clearly demonstrated a need for this app, to support young people in managing the physical, social and emotional impacts of asthma.”

Research conducted by the University of Sydney as part of the development process was published in an article in the Journal of Medical Internet Research on May 1, and shows the importance of mental health support for young people with asthma.

No previous asthma app has addressed the self-management and psychological issues associated with asthma and the team from the University of Sydney hope the co-design model could be applied in apps for other chronic diseases.

An app designed by young people, for young people

Associate Professor Lorraine Smith from the Faculty of Pharmacy said: “This is a mobile app designed by young people, for young people. For the app to be effective we were guided by the interests and concerns of young people. We were surprised to learn how important social and psychological issues were to our young co-designers. They felt strongly that the app should have supportive features to address these needs.”

A key aspect requested by young people is the Emergency Support feature. This shows asthma first aid steps and is designed for young people to show their friends if they need help when having an asthma attack.

Sydney based Alicia Mitchell is a 24-year-old PhD student who took part in the app development.

“When I was younger my asthma was quite severe; I spent a lot of time in hospital and the psychological and social impacts of asthma were huge. As a teenager fitting in is important, you don’t want to be different,” she said. 

“It was really special to be part of the research and app development. Although I can now manage my asthma well, I know how much it affected my life growing up and I saw many other kids at school who struggled to participate. This is a way I can help young people to understand asthma better so it won’t stop them from enjoying life.”

Kiss My Asthma app features include:

  • symptom tracking
  • mood tracking
  • recording asthma attacks
  • emergency support

Young people can share tracked data with doctors to help manage treatment.

Human-centred technology key to app development 

Dorian Peters, who works jointly as a User Experience Specialist in the School of Electrical and Information Engineering and Education and Multimedia Design Coordinator in the Sydney School of Education and Social Work, led the user research and design of the app, which took about 12 months from start to finish.

As with part of her development work, Dorian ran the workshops that allowed young people to share their experiences and ideas and play an active role in designing the app.

“I strongly believe this was essential to ensuring the app would be useful, relevant and engaging for them. I then translated their ideas into an interaction design and a visual design that responded to their needs, ideas and preferences,” she said.

Dorian said that by facilitating a collaboration between asthma researchers and users, they were able to get the best of both worlds: all the rigor and value of a research-based approach, combined with all the value of the expertise and experience that only users themselves have about how they live.

“It made the process of designing very real and human-centred (rather than technology-centred) and it makes it twice as exciting to be able to release the result now, because I can picture all the young people we worked with, and I feel really motivated to finally be giving something back. It’s like fulfilling a promise we've made all along,” she said.

“The app takes a holistic approach to asthma management. Working with users from the beginning we discovered that psychological impacts are an important part of their asthma experience, so the design is informed by this down to the friendly characters, calming colours and imagery we have used. That’s what makes this app special.”

Dan Gaffney

Media & PR Adviser (Medicine, Dentistry, Nursing and Pharmacy)

Jennifer Peterson-Ward

Media and PR Adviser (Engineering and IT)