Effects of an air pollution personal alert system on health service usage in a high-risk general population: A quasi-experimental study using linked data

R. A. Lyons, S. E. Rodgers*, S. Thomas, R. Bailey, H. Brunt, D. Thayer, J. Bidmead, B. A. Evans, P. Harold, M. Hooper, H. Snooks

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

18 Citations (Scopus)


Background There is no evidence to date on whether an intervention alerting people to high levels of pollution is effective in reducing health service utilisation. We evaluated alert accuracy and the effect of a targeted personal air pollution alert system, airAware, on emergency hospital admissions, emergency department attendances, general practitioner contacts and prescribed medications. Methods Quasi-experimental study describing accuracy of alerts compared with pollution triggers; and comparing relative changes in healthcare utilisation in the intervention group to those who did not sign-up. Participants were people diagnosed with asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) or coronary heart disease, resident in an industrial area of south Wales and registered patients at 1 of 4 general practices. Longitudinal anonymised record linked data were modelled for participants and non-participants, adjusting for differences between groups. Results During the 2-year intervention period alerts were correctly issued on 208 of 248 occasions; sensitivity was 83.9% (95% CI 78.8% to 87.9%) and specificity 99.5% (95% CI 99.3% to 99.6%). The intervention was associated with a 4-fold increase in admissions for respiratory conditions (incidence rate ratio (IRR) 3.97; 95% CI 1.59 to 9.93) and a near doubling of emergency department attendance (IRR=1.89; 95% CI 1.34 to 2.68). Conclusions The intervention was associated with increased emergency admissions for respiratory conditions. While findings may be context specific, evidence from this evaluation questions the benefits of implementing near real-time personal pollution alert systems for high-risk individuals.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1184-1190
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of Epidemiology and Community Health
Issue number12
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2016
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The authors would like to thank Ms Jacqui McCarthy, Dr Gwyneth Davies, Ms Joanne Davies and Dr Steven Rohman for their valuable contributions to this evaluation. The airAware system and part of the evaluation were funded by the European Social Fund. We acknowledge additional support from The Farr Institute and the Thematic Research network for emergency and UNScheduled Trauma care (TRUST). The Farr Institute is supported by a 10-funder consortium: Arthritis Research UK, the British Heart Foundation, Cancer Research UK, the Economic and Social Research Council, the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, the Medical Research Council, the National Institute of Health Research, the National Institute for Social Care and Health Research (Welsh Assembly Government), the Chief Scientist Office (Scottish Government Health Directorates), the Wellcome Trust, (MRC Grant No: MR/K006525/1). TRUST was supported by the National Institute of Social care and Health Research (Welsh Assembly Government) (2010-2015).


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