News 11/27/11

A new report from ABI Research predicts the mobile app market for health and fitness will grow from $120 million last year to over $400 million in 2016. This rapid growth will be mainly fitness, not health apps, according to the report. Much of the growth is due to the the ease of tracking with smart phones and connecting smart phones to existing sensors.

The above projection is exactly what RunKeeper and its new investors, are betting on. RunKeeper recently closed a round of financing of over $10 million from Spark Capital and Revolution Ventures. RunKeeper plans to grow its staff from 14 to 40. With the recent news and talk about the RunKeeper HealthGraph and associated API, RunKeeper will be pushing to become the central source of data from various devices and applications. I’m not sure it can succeed in the broader health market, but I think it’s got a great shot at taking a big chunk of the fitness market, which seems more than big enough. Also, if I was investing in tracking services and apps, I’d prefer the “fitness conscious” to the “unhealthy” as a customer base.

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On a similar topic of health apps vs apps for "self-tracking zealots", Joseph Kvedar, director of the Center for Connected Health at Partners Healthcare, presents the challenge of ubiquitous sensing, namely that only about 10% of the population is interested in sensing and tracking themselves. He even mentions RunKeeper. Much like the challenge of PHRs, which are really a form health tracking, Kvedar writes that strategies need to employed to engage and sustain behavior change, not just collect and present data. The strategies he predicts will win out are "social networking, incentives, games/contests, and automated coaching".

Continua announces it will make its 2011 Public Design Guidelines available to students participating in the GSMA Mobile Health University Challenge. The challenge is looking for teams of students with app ideas. The Continua guidelines will help participants by easing integration with medical devices. If you want a chance to win a free trip to South Africa — along with $5,000 and advice from VCs — find a couple of college students and submit an idea.

Calgary Scientific and its FDA-cleared mobile medical image viewer ResolutionMD becomes the most recent addition to the AT&T ForHealth family of products. AT&T will offer ResolutionMD to its Medical Imaging and Information Management customers through the new partnership.

The NHS Direct app (Android and iPhone), which contains health and symptom checking, has been used over 1 million times in the six months since its release. That seems impressive and I have to say I’m a bit surprised that the National Library of Medicine hasn’t created a native iPhone or Android app for MedlinePlus. I’ve been told that smart phone users are more likely to download a mobile app than browse a mobile website, but I’ve never seen that confirmed with data.

CompTIA’s new report, Third Annual Healthcare IT Insights and Opportunities, highlights the increasing use of mobile for medical practice. According to the release, 25% of providers are using tablets in practices and the majority are using smart phones. Most surprising to me is that one-third of providers questioned said they used mobile devices to access EMRs. Can that actually be true? It may be in part because the survey had more data from IT firms than providers themselves. The report also found very low numbers in terms of provider use or knowledge of cloud computing and telemedicine.

Ford’s partnership with WellDoc and Medtronic to offer in-car health apps and services was showcased recently. I’m not sure that offering diabetes or asthma services in a connected car is more convenient than on a smart phone, and I’m betting most people with a newer model car already have a smart phone. Maybe it’s a good additional reminder to test your blood sugar.

Freescale Semiconductor debuts a home heath hub (HHH) platform to assist device makers in building remote access platforms. The reference platform is meant to help engineers as they design data collection and aggregation services.

I stumbled on this story about the relationship between pharma and patient groups and ways that pharma can improve its image. I know pharma gets a lot of bad press about the ways that it targets consumers, but I think we’ll likely see more apps for patients put out by pharma. What really surprised me is that over 75% of US patients said their experience working with the drug industry was good or very good.

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

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