VA to reimburse for certain clinical activity trackers

By: Jonah Comstock | Aug 28, 2014        

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The modus health StepWatch is the kind of device the VA will reimburse for.

The modus health StepWatch is the kind of device the VA will reimburse for.

At the beginning of this month, MobiHealthNews noted in an In-Depth report that a new class of wireless, wearable activity tracker is increasingly finding its way into the clinical space, especially to help people with movement disorders or lower body injuries. That trend just got a big boost from the US Department of Veteran Affairs, which thanks to a recent change in its contracting template will soon begin reimbursing its doctors for activity trackers in some circumstances.

“We’ve allowed for outcome monitoring devices for the first time ever,” Dr. Joe Miller, National Program Director for Orthotic and Prosthetic Services at the VA, told MobiHealthNews. “And we’ve developed a methodology for paying for these devices. The industry is constantly referring to different devices and outcomes. But nobody has prescribed a way or developed a way for how you go about collecting those outcome measures.”

The change the VA has made is to introduce a new mandatory template for providers to use when negotiating contracts with the vendors that sell prosthetic limbs and custom orthotics for injured veterans. Part of the impetus is to keep the costs down by giving VA medical centers across the country a consistent idea of what they should be paying for various systems. But, for the first time, the contract also allows providers to be reimbursed for monitoring devices that can, in turn, deliver data on the effectiveness of prosthetic devices and how much patients are using them.  Keep reading>>

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Doctor-patient video visits to triple to 16 million next year

By: Brian Dolan | Aug 28, 2014        

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Apple FacetimeAccording to research firm Parks Associates the number of doctor-patient video consultations in the US will almost triple over the next year.

“The number of doctor-patient video consultations will nearly triple from this year to the next, from 5.7 million in 2014 to over 16 million in 2015, and will exceed 130 million in 2018,” Harry Wang, Director, Health & Mobile Product Research, Parks Associates said in a recent statement.

The firm has also teased a number of other digital health metrics in recent weeks.

Parks said that 42 percent of households in the US with broadband services had used at least one online service offered to them by their physicians. The most commonly offered and used service was requesting a prescription refill online, according to the firm.

Nearly 30 percent of these US broadband households also own and use at least one connected health device, according to Parks.  Keep reading>>

Bayer’s Grants4Apps: An accelerator run by a pharma company

By: Jonah Comstock | Aug 28, 2014        

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PharmAssistantBayer HealthCare, a German pharmaceutical company, has underscored pharma’s growing interest in mobile health by starting a new health accelerator. Grants4Apps, which started last year as a crowdsourcing initiative, was releaunched as an accelerator at an event earlier this week.

The commitment on Bayer’s part is pretty significant: they’ll be offering 50,000 euro (about $65,000) to each of the five startups, and taking less than 10 percent equity in the companies, according to a report from VentureBeat. The accelerator will last three and a half months and companies will also get free office space at Bayer headquarters in Berlin and biweekly meetings with healthcare mentors. The program will end on December 1 with a demo day.

This isn’t Bayer’s first interaction with the healthcare accelerator scene. Bayer was a European partner for Healthbox London last year.

These are the five companies, selected from more than 70 applicants, that Bayer announced on Monday:

Cortrium is a Copenhagen, Denmark-based company working on wearable health sensors for clinical use. The startup’s Bluetooth-equipped device, called the C3, can measure ECG, heart rate, respiratory rate, skin surface temperature, heart rate recovery, sleep analysis, heart rate variability, physical activity level, body position and motion. The data can be viewed on an iPad application, which can also allow multiple patients’ vitals to be viewed on a single doctor’s screen.

Lisbon, Portugal-based PharmAssistant is working on a smart pill bottle with a connected app, similar to US companies Vitality GlowCaps or AdhereTech. PharmAssistant features a light-up bottle, an alert that tells the patient to take their medication, and a remote monitoring system for friends and relatives. The app will also track medication interactions, and is available on both Android and Apple devices.

FabUlyzer is a wearable activity tracker with a twist — an additional sensor, that the user breathes into, will supposedly tell them how much fat was burned during a workout. Data is stored in the cloud and is viewable via the web or connected apps.

Early stage team Parica is working on non-contact vital signs monitoring systems for home use. These sensors would automatically alert specialists if warning signs are detected.

Qompium is a Berlin-based company working on medical apps. The startup’s first app, CardiMoni, aims to detect irregular heart rhythms using the smartphone’s camera. The app is currently available as a beta version on the Google Play store only.

“Qompium’s vision is to redefine mobile health by placing a doctor in your pocket,” the Google Play description says, after reiterating that the current version is just to collect data to refine its algorithm. “CardiMoni is our first app with the objective to detect heart rhythm disorders such as atrial fibrillation. Then, by leveraging the smartphone’s connectivity we aim to directly connect the doctor to you if a heart problem is detected. Hereby improving your quality of life through faster diagnosis, faster treatment, and faster communication.”

Researchers develop diagnostic app for newborn jaundice

By: Brian Dolan | Aug 28, 2014        

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BiliCam_baby1Medical and engineering researchers at the University of Washington in Seattle have developed a smartphone app, called BiliCam, that they claim can diagnose jaundice in newborns via a smartphone’s camera.

“The app, called BiliCam, uses a smartphone’s camera and flash and a color calibration card the size of a business card,” a blog post on the university’s site explains. “A parent or health care professional would download the app, place the card on her baby’s belly, then take a picture with the card in view. The card calibrates and accounts for different lighting conditions and skin tones. Data from the photo are sent to the cloud and are analyzed by machine-learning algorithms, and a report on the newborn’s bilirubin levels is sent almost instantly to the parent’s phone.”  Keep reading>>

Small study: Text message-based cancer screening education may help at-risk minority groups

By: Jonah Comstock | Aug 28, 2014        

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DoctorDyerIn a recent JMIR study, a team of researchers in Minnesota explored the potential of mobile health to reach people who sometimes fall through the cracks of the healthcare system. They found that a text message intervention could help Korean American women, a group that has one of the highest cervical cancer mortality rates in the United States, seek preventative screenings (Pap tests).

“A variety of structural and cultural factors act as barriers to screening for Korean American women,” the authors write. “Structural obstacles include health access due to inadequate health insurance, expense, time constraints, and language limitations. Cultural barriers to cervical cancer screening encompass lack of knowledge regarding cervical cancer and cervical cancer screening, a wrongly held belief that screening is unnecessary in the absence of symptoms or at young ages, cultural modesty or embarrassment, lack of culturally appropriate health care providers, and fear of receiving negative screening results.”

Researchers designed a text message based intervention for a study group of 30 Korean American women, 90 percent of whom had been living in the United States for less than 9 years and nearly two-thirds of whom had a family history of cancer. Based on a screening conducted ahead of time, women received messages tailored to their specific needs; for instance, a woman who had scored high on a pre-test scale for cultural embarrassment might receive the message “We understand it is a bit embarrassing to get it done. But do it for you! Your happy cervix will appreciate it!” in addition to the other messaging. Participants received messages for seven days, and many of them were interactive, prompting responses from the participants.

Results were mixed. A week after the intervention, participants were generally more knowledgable about cervical cancer and the importance of screening. Significant differences were observed in general knowledge, knowledge of risk factors, and knowledge about and attitudes toward the Pap test. But when asked whether they planned to get a screening in 1 year, 3 months, 1 month, or not at all, the increase wasn’t statistically significant, though this could be owing partly to the small sample size. At a three month follow-up, just seven of the 30 women had actually gone in to get screened for cervical cancer.

Nonetheless, researchers are hoping to follow up the study with a larger RCT, possibly modifying the experiment design to deliver the messages over a shorter time or to incorporate a smartphone app.

“Given the widespread use of mobile phones (98 percent) and smartphones (83 percent) among young adults, a mobile phone-based health intervention could be a cost-effective method of reaching hard-to-reach populations with tailored, individual messages that cover broad content areas and overcome restrictions to place and time of delivery,” they wrote. “Our developed model could be expanded for delivery to different age groups of Korean American women to promote additional types of cancer screening, such as colonoscopy or mammogram. It could also be used with other underserved minority groups. Vietnamese, Hmong, and Laotian American women face similar barriers to cancer screening and report high cervical cancer incidence and mortality. It is likely that these populations may also benefit from a similarly tailored intervention approach.”

Ralph Lauren, OMsignal team up for health-sensing designer shirts

By: Jonah Comstock | Aug 27, 2014        

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ralph laurenThis week the New York Times broke the news of a surprising new entrant in the wearable activity tracker space: Ralph Lauren, the fashion label known for their polo shirts and ties. At the US Open, the Times reports, the clothier equipped ball boys with form fitting black tee-shirts, emblazoned with the Ralph Lauren logo, that track users’ biometrics. Ralph Lauren has teamed with OMsignal to make the garments.

“Everyone is exploring wearable tech watches and headbands and looking at cool sneakers,” Ralph Lauren executive vice president for advertising David Lauren told the Times. “We skipped to what we thought was new, which is apparel. We live in our clothes.”

The shirts measure heart rate, stress, breathing, distance, intensity of movement, and calories burned, and send that data to a user’s smartphone. Ralph Lauren expects to make them available by the beginning of next year, along with a dress shirt version, according to the Times.

Back in July when OMsignal raised $10 million, CEO and cofounder Stéphane Marceau told MobiHealthNews that the company planned to use some of the funds to explore partnerships with fitness and sportswear apparel companies.

“Smart clothing will become a pervasive and normal aspect of consumers’ lives,” he said in a statement at the time. “Following the recent launch of our Biometric Smartwear collection, we are continuing to receive orders from all over the world, developing new designs and working with top partners to bring our technology to an even wider consumer base.”

That Ralph Lauren is interested in health-sensing clothing speaks powerfully to the idea that this technology is moving into the mainstream, and it follows several recent developments in a similar vein. Last month, Tory Burch introduced a line of designer jewelry for wearing Fitbit activity trackers. In April, Misfit Shine added Bloom, a jewelry-style pendant, to its product lineup.

Last year, mPERS maker QMedic said it was in talks with Cartier to design a version of its device, and almost exactly a year ago, Vogue magazine dedicated a page to wearables as a celebrity fashion statement.