Asthma Buddy – Asthma Plan for Mobile Devices

Patient group redesigns asthma plan for mobile devices 

Many patient groups have long-established, tried and tested content, but sometimes in formats not easy to use on today’s smartphones. Finding the budget, time and technically creative skills needed to update and adapt materials for mobile optimisation can be challenging for patient charities. The Australian charity, the National Asthma Council, adapted their successful Asthma Buddy asthma plan to use on mobile devices.  

When the updated mobile-only site was launched, the charity’s CEO set out the case for change:

“Asthma Buddy has helped hundreds of Australians manage their asthma for many years. We hope this new useful tool can help you take control of your asthma and improve the quality of life for you and your family

…Asthma Buddy is a digital Asthma Action Plan that lives in your pocket…know what asthma medication to take…recognise if your asthma is getting worse and…what you should do in response.” – Siobhan Brophy, Chief Executive Officer, National Asthma Council Australia

How can pharma help?

The National Asthma Council Australia gained funding from GSK Australia to support the mobile relaunch of the tool.  The charity retained its editorial control.

Helping to relaunch successful patient group materials, can have some attractions for pharma:

  • The project can be defined quite transparently, and it is clear what a company’s funding has been spent on, within a relatively controlled schedule.
  • Building on a project that has previously been successful gives a company confidence in the likely uptake and response rate.
  • Updating and adapting existing materials can be less risky and time-consuming from the pharmaceutical company’s regulatory/legal team’s point of view.
Where are the challenges?

The scale of work in adapting content for mobile use depends on the format and style of the existing materials.

Many older patient group websites:

  • rely on using formats that are a legacy of large landscape computer screens or even printed leaflets
  • expect patients to download and read PDFs of existing publications designed for print.

For example, it can be extremely difficult to read patient materials designed for print on a smart phone. You may end up scrolling up, down and across columns.  You may need to zoom in and out. It can feel more like a game of battleships than reading. Also, the PDF layout may not be suitable for screen readers for patients with additional visual needs.

What are the steps?

Adapting existing content can be challenging, especially if, as with Asthma Buddy, the content is popular.  There is a wide range of things to consider, but here are some example areas:

Firstly, content:

Consider the density of text, for example. How much can the patient take it on a small phone screen?

Secondly, style:

Can the content be read at a glance, for example clear section headings, and bullet lists rather than long sentences and dense paragraphs?

Thirdly, structure:

Can the content be broken up into screen-size chunks?  Can users easily find the right level of detail for their individual needs?

Fourthly, navigation:

Is the menu system set up to enable fast access to specific information with the minimum of clicks?

And lastly, user needs and context:

The use of mobile content can be quite a stop-start, fragmented experience as the person picks up and puts down the content. They may for example be looking at materials while travelling, or while waiting for an appointment, cooking or watching TV. It can be a less controlled experience than browsing on a home computer, so users need to be able to `pick up the thread’ without confusion. 

Setting up for a mobile future

As mobile devices are increasingly used to access content, including from patient groups, most sites over time are being designed for `mobile optimisation’ – set up for viewing on mobile devices.  In part it can mean that the distinction between mobile health apps and other digital tools delivered over a browser is increasingly blurred. 

From a user point of view, it may not matter much whether content is an app or a ‘mobile site’ – the main difference is where they find the content.  For example, direct from the patient group, or through an app store.

Tweaking items of content for mobile use can be challenging enough.  Changing a very old website, may be more a case of starting afresh. In any event, it can be revealing to try to read and navigate current websites on a tiny phone screen, or even the larger screens of later-generation model mobiles.


Read about the Asthma Buddy Mobile site at…

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Visit the Asthma Buddy mobile site…

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Visit the National Asthma Council Australia site…

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Read their press release about Asthma Buddy…

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