Ford greenlights first health app: Allergy Alert

By: Brian Dolan | Aug 2, 2012        

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Ford Allergy Alert AppAs expected, Ford has announced the launch of the first mobile health app to connect to certain Ford models via the car company’s Sync AppLink platform: IMS Health’s Allergy Alert app, which is powered by data from IMS Health’s Pollen.com site. MobiHealthNews attended Ford’s media event in May 2011 when the car company unveiled its research pilots focused on mobile health. At the time the company said apps like Allergy Alert would take one to two years before commercially launching. That proved true: It took 14 months.

The car company said that automobiles were just another platform for apps, like smartphones or tablets. Last May, Paul Mascarenas, the Chief Technology Officer at Ford Research and Innovation, said at the media event: “[At Ford] we see health and wellness as a core area for us moving forward.”

Gary Strumolo, Manager, Vehicle Design & Infotronics, Ford Research and Innovation explained that Ford had architected three ways for mobile health services to interact with its cars: Bluetooth connectivity between the car’s computer and personal medical devices, remote access to cloud services via the car’s computer, and synching up to the health apps users already have on their smartphones.

Allergy Alert was one of mobile health apps that were on display at Ford’s event last year. Medtronic and WellDoc also showed off their wares: Medtronic demo’d a continuous glucose meter (CGM) that connected to the car via Bluetooth and allowed users to hear alerts about their blood glucose readings instead of having to fumble with their monitor’s screen while driving. WellDoc demonstrated its cloud-based DiabetesManager service, which could encourage drivers to double check their blood sugar right when they get behind the wheel if they had a low reading earlier that day.

More recently, Ford Motor announced that it had built on its in-car health monitoring initiative by teaming with Microsoft and Healthrageous to research how people can monitor their health and promote wellness with connected devices while in their vehicles. In January, the companies took advantage of the spotlight at the massive 2012 International CES trade show in Las Vegas to show off a prototype called “the car that cares.”

The number of allergy related apps is on the up and up. As we noted recently and following the completion of our recent consumer apps study, allergy-related apps, like IMS Health’s Allergy Alert, are an emerging and fast-growing subcategory of iOS health apps — a few such apps launch every month during the past year.

More on the Allergy Alert launch in the press release below:

DEARBORN, Mich., Aug. 2, 2012 – Allergy Alert® app is now compatible with Ford SYNC® AppLink™ to give drivers a safe way to check the potential for scratchy eyes, sore throats and runny noses while on the go.

“Mobile health apps are changing the way consumers manage their own wellness, and Ford SYNC provides the platform to extend this growing trend to the driving experience,” explained Doug VanDagens, global director of Ford Connected Services. “The SYNC AppLink-enabled Allergy Alert app allows drivers to quickly check current and upcoming pollen and other health risk conditions with simple voice commands while keeping their hands on the wheel and eyes on the road.”

According to Pollen.com, seasonal allergy symptoms affect 20 percent of Americans annually. Those suffering with allergies are challenged to figure out if pollen levels are up or down and how it may impact their health that day. Pollen.com is a publicly available allergy resource supplied by IMS Health, a global leader in healthcare information, services and technology, and the data provider for the Allergy Alert app.

“Pollen affects everyone differently, and the IMS app was developed to specifically help people on the move improve their quality of life,” said Dan Barton, U.S. head of product development for IMS Health. “Our experience with allergy sufferers suggests a strong demand for real-time information. The technology we’ve applied in the Ford SYNC AppLink-equipped car helps drivers better prepare for the allergens they may encounter on the road by delivering reliable, timely and relevant information related to their destination. The app gives users the ability to more consistently manage their symptoms.”

With SYNC AppLink, drivers can connect smartphones or tablets to their cars, and by using simple voice commands are able to quickly access information from Allergy Alert – while not having to take their hands off the wheel or eyes off the road.

Through the app’s pollen index rating, drivers can request to hear the types of allergen conditions they are likely to encounter that may cause a flare-up in personal allergy symptoms. The app also provides a risk index for asthma, flu/cough/cold and ultraviolet rays.

Based on the growing trend in mobile and Web-based healthcare services, Ford initiated research into health and wellness apps that could leverage SYNC’s connectivity capability. In spring of last year, Ford kicked off a series of research projects for in-car health and wellness-connected services such as medical device connectivity, cloud-based health management services and mobile app integration. In just over a year, Ford is now delivering on the initial research with Allergy Alert as one of the first steps toward helping drivers to take care of themselves and their passengers.

“We are attempting to create the car that cares,” says Gary Strumolo, global manager of Ford Research and Innovation. “We want to change the paradigm that in-car connectivity systems such as SYNC can only be used for information and entertainment purposes. Health and wellness are key issues for our customers outside of the car; therefore, we want to leverage our connectivity platform to improve their time behind the wheel. The trend in mobile health is all about knowing potential health concerns before they happen so that they don’t surprise a person, even while driving.”

SYNC AppLink integration enables drivers to use simple voice commands to access the health and wellness features of the Allergy Alert app while keeping their hands on the wheel and eyes on the road. The voice commands and features include:

· “Current location” updates the driver’s location using the car’s built-in GPS receiver to report the most accurate and up-to-date information

· “Allergy” provides a verbal pollen index to users that rates the severity of pollen levels in the surrounding environment on a scale from 0 to 12

· “Pollen” specifies that pollens are predominantly in the air

· “Asthma” uses a 0 to 12 scale to address potential and upcoming concerns for asthmatics

· “Flu” addresses the current and upcoming flu index and report

· “UV” tells drivers of the current and upcoming risks of UV rays

· “ZIP 1,” “ZIP 2” and “ZIP 3” stores up to three ZIP codes in the settings menu of users’ device. The first ZIP code is the default location when not using the GPS position. The second and third ZIP enable users to store ZIP codes outside of their current area, such as a mother storing the ZIP code of her child’s school

The SYNC AppLink-enabled version of Allergy Alert is available for iOS devices and is a free app that can be downloaded from the App Store.

SYNC AppLink is currently available on 10 2012 Ford vehicle models.

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