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Smartphone app transforms care for Royal Papworth Hospital patients with cystic fibrosis



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Patients with cystic fibrosis (CF) at Royal Papworth Hospital have been able to monitor their health from home during the pandemic via a smartphone app.

Project Breathe equipment
Project Breathe equipment

CF is a genetic condition that weakens the lungs and affects the digestive system. Historically, a visit to the hospital had been the only way for a clinical team to monitor patients’ health, and, even before Covid-19, patients would have to wear masks when in hospital to protect themselves from picking up infections.

That was one of the reasons behind the launch of a first-of-its-kind study at Royal Papworth Hospital, called Project Breathe, in February 2019, which allowed people with CF to monitor their health at home.

Patients are allocated devices – such as a FitBit and electronic scales – that measure key indicators including lung function, blood oxygen levels, weight, sleep and temperature, and then upload the results via a smartphone.

That data is then uploaded to an app on their phone and sent to the hospital, enabling clinicians to view each individual’s data at virtual appointments. By tracking their own health, patients can also intervene earlier and potentially head-off serious, lung-damaging infections.

Rachel Godfrey, a cystic fibrosis research sister, said: “People with cystic fibrosis spend a lot of time in hospital, both as inpatients and outpatients. We know that a lot of those outpatient appointments can be avoided with the right technology.

“A patient’s nearest CF centre can be some distance away, meaning a full day of travel and tests, leading to fatigue and therefore poor performances in the tests we do and, subsequently, sometimes misleading information about their health."

The Project Breathe team at Royal Papworth
The Project Breathe team at Royal Papworth

The study is also reducing the number of days that cystic fibrosis patients spend in hospital for intravenous antibiotic treatment.

Once participants have home monitoring equipment, they are given the option to consent to their data being analysed by machine learning experts at the University of Cambridge and Microsoft Research. The data is stored in the cloud and develops early warning algorithms, using a predictive model to determine when patients are becoming sick long before they begin to feel unwell.

Professor Andres Floto, professor of respiratory biology at the University of Cambridge and an honorary consultant physician at Royal Papworth Hospital, explained: “As well as avoiding the usual clinic attendances, early results show that the model can identify a decline in a patient’s condition an average of 11 days earlier than antibiotics would typically be started.

“Virtual clinics and home monitoring have surged in use across the NHS during the coronavirus pandemic. Project Breathe has been ahead of the curve in that respect. If we can also intervene earlier, we should be able to protect patients – in this case their lungs – from long-term, ongoing damage.”

This pioneering work in Cambridge has now led to Project Breathe being expanded significantly across the UK and internationally.

Read more:

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