News 10/19/11

I missed the McKesson Foundation’s Mobilizing for Health 2012 grant winners announcement from earlier this month. Six grants, totally $1.4 million, were givento "investigate how mobile phones can be used to improve the lives of underserved populations suffering from chronic diseases". All six target diabetics. The most interesting to me was Medic Mobile (formerly FrontlineSMS,) which is creating an SMS tool to confirm and reschedule appointments. Medic Mobile, as far as I know, is a non-profit that has been 100% focused on global health, specifically in Africa. Maybe it is trying to copy the model of Voxiva in importing mobile health experience from abroad to the US.


Mobile ultrasound vendor Mobisante finally gets its phone-based ultrasound on the market in the US. FDA clearance was obtained earlier this year, but it took time to meet some of the FDA’s implementation mandates. The Mobisante probe connects over USB with a Windows mobile device, and is not available for Android or iOS devices at this point. Tablets are apparently on the product roadmap, but I’d imagine those would be Windows-based tablets.

Indian Health Services CIO Howard Hays testifies to the Senate that telehealth can improve access to and quality of care for Native populations. OK, now that we know it works, we just need to fund it.


iHealth announces the US release of its Digital Scale, which connects to iOS devices over Bluetooth and tracks "an unlimited number of users." iHealth appears to be competing head-on with Withings and its iOS connected scales and blood pressure cuffs. The new iHealth scale ($69) is $90 less than the Withings scale ($159).

MIT Media Lab spinoff Ginger.io closes a $1.7 million round of financing. Ginger.io tracks user activities, locations, and patterns (e-mail, SMS, etc) of mobile device usage. The application runs in the background of a mobile phone and does not require user input. The idea is that by tracking all of this, Ginger can figure out the "normal" routine of users and then flag any variations, potentially signaling impending health problems. From this, health systems or payers can proactively reach out to these users and hopefully prevent office and urgent care visits. I’m curious to see if this model actually works. The other potential value is to pharma companies that want to do population-based research. This to me seems like a more likely path to revenue. Ginger right now works on Android and I’m not sure you can do this kind of monitoring on iOS.

Walgreens adds a new mobile service to make prescription refills even easier, Refill Reminder Text Alerts. Users are sent an SMS when they are due a refill and can complete their order by replying with "refill." Also of note, 25% of online prescription refills for Walgreens are now generated using mobile apps.

CVS releases an Android version of its mobile app. CVS is now reaching the majority of smart phone users with apps for Android, iOS, and Blackberry. The app allows users to refill, check prescription status, and find other CVS-related info.

New research of public Tweets (is that supposed to be capitalized?) finds that people tend to surround themselves with users who share the same sentiment, either positive or negative, about the H1N1 vaccine. In other words, more groupthink and less debate. Extending from this point, the researches claim that high-risk groups, or those that hold negative views about vaccines, can be identified and targeted.

Physician Interactive Holdings, a division of Skyscape, and Remedy Systems jointly launch Tomorrow Networks. The new network is a platform for mobile health developers to market apps to providers. It sounds like a targeted marketing tool and I’m not sure what reason a provider would have for using it to find mobile health tools, despite the assertion in the story that providers need help wading through the myriad of apps currently available. Providers are going to use what is recommended to them by other providers or mobile versions of the names they already know and trust – Epocrates, UpToDate, and all the other major publishers they’ve used and liked in the past.

HCPlexus announces the little blue book (tlbb) Mobile 2.0, an updated mobile version of the application docs can use to find other providers, hospitals, and pharmacies. The new version adds some limited functionality, like adding notes to user profiles. tlbb sounds a bit like Doximity without the ability for docs to secure message and have LinkedIn-like medical profiles, which I guess is how Doximity is differentiating itself.

The State of California passes a new bill aimed at increasing the adoption of telehealth services in the state. This is probably one of the worst press releases I’ve seen in a while, but I think the bill expands the types of covered telehealth services and makes credentialing telehealth providers easier.

The Vodafone Wireless Innovation Project is open to applications. The deadline is December 31. Winners get $300K, $200K, or $100K to test a mobile health prototype in the field. Entries need to be global in scope. It’s a great opportunity if you’ve got a decently baked global mobile health idea, though I’m betting competition will be fierce.


Travis Good is an MD/MBA involved with health IT startups.


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