Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) — including emphysema and chronic bronchitis — is a group of diseases related to breathing difficulties or restricted airflow. There is no cure for COPD, but the symptoms can improve with treatment. Unfortunately, while there are approximately 16 million Americans with COPD, according to the CDC, millions more have not been diagnosed and therefore receive no treatment. We’ve written about a Philips wearable that tracks patient COPD data, an asthma symptom monitoring app, and other developments with breathing health biomarkers. A digital health product could help bring treatment to more people.

Kaia Health focuses on providing treatment solutions for people with COPD in Europe and the U.S. According to Kaia’s figures, 100 million Americans and Europeans people are affected by COPD, but fewer than one million receive pulmonary rehabilitation (PR) treatment each year. PR is a cost-effective treatment regimen that combines physiotherapy, psychology, and patient education. Traditional PR positively slows COPD progression and mortality.

In original research published by Dove Press, a study run by associates from Kaia Health and the Lung Center of the Department of Medicine at the Cantonal Hospital St. Gallen explored whether Kaia COPD, a digital version of PR run on a smartphone, could approximate the results of traditional PR. Kaia COPD includes psychosocial support to help patients master progressive muscle relaxation which in turn helps with shortness of breath, coping skills, anxiety, and depression. The app selects and modifies physiotherapy exercises based on a patient’s disease profile and physical limitations. The app also breaks down selected COPD education units into small components of topics ranging from basic medical knowledge to stopping smoking, current inhaler techniques, and nutrition suggestions.

The results of the COPD study showed statistically significant short-term improvement in the quality of life of patients who completed a 20-day base program. This pilot program suggests that further development of Kaia COPD and other digital pulmonary rehabilitation programs have the potential to help many COPD patients who do not receive traditional PR treatment.