Can texts from pharmacists help you breathe easier?


The University of British Columbia (UBC) Faculty of Pharmaceutical Sciences today launches the EmPhAsIS (Empowering Pharmacists in Asthma Management through Interactive SMS) study, in alignment with the World Health Organization's World Asthma Day, part of the Global Initiative for Asthma.

The twelve-month trial study will explore how automated text messages from pharmacists can help patients adhere to their asthma management plans and improve health outcomes.

Asthma is a chronic, inflammatory disease of the airways affecting over three million Canadians of all ages. Symptoms include shortness of breath, tightness of the chest, coughing and wheezing. If symptoms are not managed, they can result in frequent doctor visits, hospitalizations, and absence from school or work. While there is no cure for asthma, there are treatment options that can assist patients to manage their symptoms and improve their quality of life. However, medication adherence among asthma patients is among the lowest of all chronic diseases.

"We are thrilled to launch the EmPhAsIS study in conjunction with World Asthma Day," says Dr. Mary De Vera, study lead and assistant professor, UBC Faculty of Pharmaceutical Sciences. "This year's theme is 'You Can Control Your Asthma,' which complements the launch of our study focussing on adherence and asthma control."

The trial will equip participating community pharmacists across British Columbia with mobile health technology to interact with their patients. Asthma patients registered in the EmPhAsIS study will receive education and support by way of centralized monthly text messages to assess adherence with their asthma therapy, and follow-up communications if responses signal a potential non-adherence problem.

"Pharmacists are well-suited to educate and support their patients in this manner given their training, skills, and frequent patient contact, " says Dr. De Vera. "Text messaging offers an accessible and convenient system for ongoing feedback and communication."

Transmission of text messages will be centralized via WelTel, a platform developed by UBC researcher Dr. Richard Lester.

The EmPhAsIS study is led by principal investigator Dr. Mary De Vera, UBC Faculty of Pharmaceutical Sciences, in collaboration with Dr. Mohsen Sadatsafavi, UBC Faculty of Medicine. Co-investigators are Dr. Larry Lynd and Ms. Parkash Ragsdale, UBC Faculty of Pharmaceutical Sciences, Drs. Richard Lester and Mark FitzGerald, UBC Faculty of Medicine, Dr. Penny Brasher, Centre for Clinical Epidemiology and Evaluation, and Dr. Carlo Marra, Memorial University School of Pharmacy.

The study is supported by grants from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, the BC College of Pharmacists, and the Canadian Foundation for Innovation.

Image: Dr. Mary De Vera showcases the EmPhAsIS study website. Ivan Yastrebov.