News 3/29/12

I appreciate the passionate e-mails and comments to my post earlier this week about free apps and services in healthcare. I’ll write a follow-up later this week on the same subject. Please e-mail me if you have any thoughts you’d like included.

The HHS One in a Million Hearts Challenge announces its winners. First place and $50,000 goes to THUMPr, a Web app that uses evidence-based guidelines to give users personal recommendations related to heart health. Second place and $20,000 goes to mHealthCoach, the wellness and health educational platform that won the Walgreens Health 2.0 challenge. Third place and $5,000 goes to Wellframe, an app that does heart risk assessments and allows users to share using e-mail or Direct.

Louisville apparently has higher rates of asthma than the rest of the country. Because of that, it is embarking on a trial that will attempt to track severe asthma attacks and ideally identify triggers. Study participants are using an adapter attached to inhalers to track usage by both time and location. The adapter is made by Asthmapolis (video above.)

Has anybody heard of or tried some of the mobile app-building tools that have recently been launched? I’ve used Codiqa for quickly creating jQuery Mobile apps (usually prototypes) and saw this article about TheAppBuilder, which allows you to create a mobile app by clicking and dragging elements on a website. The functions allowed are somewhat limited, but it’s a cool concept if you don’t know how to program. TheAppBuilder currently supports Android and iOS.

According to this article, mobile devices — especially when being used as part of a bring-your-own-device policy — distract clinicians. My favorite quote is from John Halamka MD: "I think all of us who use mobile devices have what I will call continuous partial attention." I couldn’t agree more. Mobile distraction is a problem for me, and I text back and forth with several doctors while they are in the hospital and clinic. Jumping back and forth between notes, orders, and personal SMS has to represent an increased risk for error. Also, after my last trip home and seeing that every person was checked out playing Word with Friends, I’ve come to despise the game as a huge drain on real-life interactions.

Fitbit releases an Android mobile app for viewing activity (not syncing it) and entering food intake info. I know Fitbit wanted to get this right, but it seems like a serious lag from the iOS mobile app that was released last October, especially given that Fitbit is fairly well funded.

Secure clinical communications platform company PerfectServe, which must have hired a new PR firm or approved more funding for press, announces "robust" apps for BlackBerry and Android. I’m curious how people feel about the word "robust"? I sent a document recently to my father-in-law for review and he told me, in a very direct way, not to use the word "robust" when describing something because it’s meaninglessly applied to every product out there. He’s sort of a no-BS kind of guy, so I’m not surprised, but now I can’t prevent an alarm from going off in my head every time I see or hear the word.

If you have a startup (or an idea for one) and want to spend the summer in Cincinnati, you might want to check out the new health accelerator Innov8 for Health. Applications are due April 30. The accelerator program is 12 weeks, companies get $20,000 in seed funding, and the accelerator gets 6% of the company. Using an "8" in a company name must be a new trend, as I recently heard about another incubator / accelerator (not specific to health) called Gener8tor.

Or maybe you have a wellness-related startup and want to move to New York. Another new incubator, WellTech, launched this week with an inaugural class of two startups – FITiST and Wizpert. FITiST helps users find boutique places to workout and provides tools to track training. Wizpert brings together experts in a range of fields (nutrition, parenting, exercise) to help users find expert advice.

Quantified self tracker BodyMedia secures $2.7 million in funding towards a goal of $10 million. The company’s armband-powered app continually tracks activity, sleep, and calories. I have a friend who uses it and loves it. Any opinions?

A very small study of parents or caregivers of pediatric patients with cancer finds they prefer not to use the Internet to find health-related information. The reasons cited were distrust of online information and fear of finding negative prognostic information.

In light of my last post about free apps and services, I found this article interesting. It talks about using the model of giving away the diagnosis for free, but paying for the remedy. The best example is anti-virus software with free detection but paid fixing. I’m wondering how this model would be applied in healthcare. Maybe a service to analyze lost claims revenue or deductible collection and then offer a paid solution to fix the problem? Or maybe something related to appointment setting? Maybe these already exist. For consumers, a service could identify cost savings for medications and then offer links to cheaper meds. These are not the best examples. Anybody else?

In privacy-related iOS news, Apple has apparently started rejecting apps that access the UDID of a device. The UDID is unique to each device, so capturing it and combining it with other data about the user makes for a very powerful dataset to target advertising and content and to perform analytics. Imagine you’re a physician that uses a decision support tool, or even a calculator or reference guide, that captures the UDID and other basic profile info about you (location, specialty, etc). That data, if made available to ad networks, could then be used in other apps and games to target ads and content towards you. I’m not a big fan of apps having UDID access, but there is a need to identify devices. I’m hopeful a suitable alternative is developed.

I reported last week about as Path, a shared journal app I use with friends, integrating Nike+ using the new, private Path API. I’ve been using RunKeeper to track my exercise for several years and like it, though I wish I ran more to increase my totals. After the Path integration, I decided to try the Nike+ iPhone app to see how it works. The process of linking the apps was very simple, and actually sort of fun as you drag the Nike+ icon onto a slot in the Path app. Now my runs and clickable maps — with or without pace — automatically post to Path when I complete a it using Nike+. It’s a nice feature and I think I finally got the big picture behind Path. For me, sharing my exercise that I logged with RunKeeper to Twitter or Facebook really didn’t have any value. I like reading and sharing with the smaller group on Path and exercise is no different. Several friends on Path have also linked Nike+, so it actually motivates all of us.

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

  • Demo Chic

    On the word “robust” – it’s used extensively in my organization to mean “we have no other useful attributes to describe this initiative, which is a real stinker, but we need you to get on board anyway.” It’s suspect, so keep that alarm going off in your head.

  • Travis,

    Thanks for all the great tips on mobile apps, I’ll be adding them to TPD’s List of iPhone apps with my next update.

  • Mike Wisz

    On overuse of “robust:” I’ve never heard a purchaser of software ask whether an application is robust or not.

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