Digital interventions such as ‘smart’ inhalers and text message prompts can improve asthma medication adherence by 15% and may cut the risk of asthma attacks by half, research has suggested.

The review of evidence by researchers from University College London, Queen Mary University of London, and the University of Auckland, found that digital tools help people take their asthma medication more effectively and improve health. The paper was published by the Cochrane Library as part of their database of systematic health and medical reviews.

They looked at evidence from 40 randomised controlled trials collected from over 50 years of research from four continents, with data on over 15,000 adults and children. All of them had asthma and were using digital tools to support the management of asthma medications for long-term control of symptoms and prevention of attacks.

Digital tools were found to yield a clinically significant improvement of 15% in asthma medication adherence, and their use also reduced the risk of asthma attacks by roughly half. However, the researchers judged the quality of evidence for the latter to be low, based on the small test populations, with the improvements ranging from 32% to 91%.

The digital interventions included smart inhalers or electronic adherence monitors, which can track the time the medication is taken and the dose, or monitor if a person is using their inhaler correctly. Other tools included mobile apps, text message reminders, information alerts, or game-based approaches.

Lead author Dr Amy Chan of UCL School of Pharmacy and University of Auckland said: ‘By pulling together evidence from numerous studies from around the globe, we have found that digital tools can help people to take their asthma medication more effectively, which subsequently improves their health.

She added: ‘Asthma is the most common lung condition worldwide, affecting over 330 million people, and yet despite effective treatments, many people are not taking their medications in the most optimal manner. We hope that digital tools can help to make it easier for people to manage their health.’

The most effective digital interventions to improve medication taking were found to be smart inhalers and text message reminders.

Co-author Dr Anna De Simoni from Queen Mary University of London said: ‘The evidence in this review gives me, as a practising GP, more confidence in discussing apps and other digital tools with my patients. With further research to identify the best way of using digital supports, we hope to continue helping people with asthma to improve their health.’

This comes after analysis by a charity in May found women in the UK with asthma are almost twice as likely to die from an asthma attack than men with asthma.