News 12/16/11

Reader Naveen writes in response to the mHealth Summit summary:

Excellent summary. I (and many others) would agree wholeheartedly with your assessment of the clinical lag in mHealth. At the end of the day, the folks who are trying to innovate with mHealth solutions seem well-intentioned, but somewhat misinformed. It’s akin to trying to redesign the handle of a bucket to make it easier to throw water onto a fire…while the house is burning.

Folks who are talking about “clinical solutions” rarely seem looped into the ‘actuals’ of health care delivery – HEDIS measures and reimbursement policy, organizational workflow challenges, and above all else integration into current care management. While ‘patient-centeredness’ and ‘consumer-orientation’ have emerged as themes du jour in mHealth, these ideas aren’t really about healthcare as much as they are about lifestyle and convenience. An emerging strategy is to use them as a crutch to secure seed funding without real regard for the heart of care delivery challenges.While progress is palpable and inevitable, until we start aiming at the right targets, we probably won’t hit them. Thanks again for sharing your thoughts.

Much better put than my own words. I need to use more analogies. Also, I’m planning to follow up on this with more information from firms in the industry.

This news somehow got lost last week in my posts about the announcements at the mHealth Summit. WellDoc presented and released information about a study of 32 patients that found significantly a lower number of hospital stays and ER visits associated with the use of WellDoc’s mobile diabetes management system. Participants in the study were given a $20 monthly discount on their mobile phone plans, which I’m sure helped with adoption. $240/yr per patient means you only have to prevent one hospitalization per year in about 1 out of every 16 patients to get a positive ROI. I’m sure WellDoc is pitching this to payers and CMS as I write. I was looking around for a logo of WellDoc and stumbled on a recent interview with the founders. This quote was telling, especially in light of all the consumer-driving-health discussions lately: "We work in a really challenging industry in health care, and it’s been a good lesson learned for us that it’s not a consumer industry. It is an enterprise industry, and there are really some entrenched players and entrenched ways of doing business." Seems like WellDoc gets it.

Jawbone announces refunds for all people *claiming* to have a defective Up device. The device, a wristband and associated app for monitoring activity, sleep, and nutrition, was released last month. It’s a nice offer from the company but not a great way to launch into a new vertical. If you get the refund, you still get to keep the device.

Initial results of a study out in the UK show that the use of telehealth for chronic conditions reduces mortality by close to 50%. It also reduced ED visits (called A&E in the UK apparently), admissions, and days inpatient. The paper is so high level it’s hard to get much else.

El Camino Hospital (CA) launches the Family Medical Officer (FMO) App. The term family medical officer, according to Google, seems like something El Camino came up with to represent the person in a household that is responsible for the majority of healthcare decisions, usually the mom and adult daughter. The app is a facility app (ED wait times, provider listings, directions, news) that also allows users to track family medical information. It’s available on Android and iOS.

Researchers are testing a device that’s portable and relatively cheap for HIV testing in remote areas. The idea is to improve ongoing monitoring of HIV patients in developing countries, especially those in rural areas that have to travel for tests. The next version of the device will be slightly larger than a smart phone.

GAIN Fitness raises $650,000 to expand its mobile fitness app. The app is a marketplace for personal trainers and premium workouts. Starting in January, users will be able to buy bundles of workouts in different categories and for different lifestyles. It seems like a cool idea for the fitness conscience population.

A team from the Worcester Polytechnic Institute, in collaboration with the University of Massachusetts School of Medicine, gets an NSF grant worth $1.2 million to "develop a smart phone application that will help people with advanced diabetes and foot ulcers better manage their disease". The first two years are for prototype development and the second two years are for a clinical trial. I really hope that in four years somebody has already built a product and found a sustainable business model for this kind of app. If not, I guess the NSF money will be put to good use.

A new company from California is building ultraportable and apparently ultra-cheap x-ray devices. The devices are cheap and portable, about the size of an iPhone, because they harness the power of static electricity. It’s a very interesting concept that may find its way to healthcare eventually.

My wife would love this one. A new app called Safe Sushi from the Sierra Club lists the mercury levels in different kinds of sushi. She doesn’t really care any more, but when she was pregnant she was concerned about eating sushi. It’s only available on Android.

Sotera Wireless raises $12.2 million in Series D financing. Investors include Qualcomm, West Wireless, and Cerner. Cerner, hoping to maximize its ROI, also signed a commercial agreement with Sotera. Sotera offers vital signs monitoring tools to help identify early signs of badness so that clinicians can intervene and hopefully reverse it.

I’m not sure this is really mobile health news, but if fitness is health, then so is safety. Has anybody heard of Life360? It just raised $3.5 million. It’s a mobile app and location service that enables families — or I assume any group if they so chose — to see family member locations and check in. The primary value seems to be parents tracking kids. Apparently it has 10 million users. Anyway, the use of the money is to extend the feature set, and I would think home monitoring and tracking elderly parents would be another potential source of revenue. What I don’t understand, as this is meant for internal family communication, is why it all has to be about checking in for safety reasons and not something a little more fun, like a family journal. Although maybe kids are more motivated by fear of punishment for not checking in than by sharing any thoughts or experiences with parents.

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

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