Users engaged more with cancer-focused Facebook pages than other health pages

By: Aditi Pai | Aug 11, 2014        

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Breast cancer awareness pageResearchers from Harvard and Stanford have published a paper in the Journal of Medical Internet Research (JMIR) that explores how much public data exists on Facebook about several popular health conditions.

The study authors, who are from Partners HealthCare’s Center for Connected Health, Harvard Medical School, and Stanford University School of Medicine, first identified the 20 most searched health terms on Google. The terms they discovered included ‘cancer’, ‘diabetes’, ‘stomach’, ‘herpes’, ‘back pain’, ‘human immunodeficiency virus’ (HIV), ‘blood pressure’, ‘thyroid’, ‘breast cancer’, ‘arthritis’, ‘diarrhea’, and ‘stroke’.

The team chose Facebook because a Pew research project found that, in general, 71 percent of online adults use Facebook, while only 17 percent use Instagram, 21 percent use Twitter, and 22 percent use LinkedIn.

“We found that a search of Facebook for common health conditions provided a large number of irrelevant pages,” the researchers said in the paper. “In addition, most pages were devoted to marketing/promotion and relatively few pages were devoted to social support. Social support was especially underrepresented in pages for health conditions for communicable diseases.”  Keep reading>>


App developers get first chance to work with Google Fit

By: Jonah Comstock | Aug 11, 2014        

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Google FitGoogle has released a preview software development kit (SDK) for Google Fit, the platform the company will launch later this year to help Android users aggregate data from fitness apps and devices. The preview launch gives some hints about what the final SDK will look like when it launches later this year.

In a blog post, Google explained that the preview SDK will contain three different APIs. The first, a Sensor API, will allow a developer’s app to talk to sensors either embedded in an Android phone or in a connected wearable.

So if you’re making a running app, you could register it to receive updates from a connected heart rate monitor every 5 seconds during a user’s run and give immediate feedback to the runner on the display,” Google Fit product manager Angana Ghosh writes.

The other two APIs are a Recording API, which allows an app to work in the background of the phone to detect other kinds of data, like location, continuously without using too much battery, and a History API, which allows the app to access similar data after the fact. The History API will be able to pull batch data from pre-existing apps on a user’s phone.

“Google Fit provides a single set of APIs for apps and device manufacturers to store and access activity data from fitness apps and sensors on Android and other devices (like wearables, heart rate monitors or connected scales),” Ghosh wrote. “This means that with the user’s permission, you can get access to the user’s fitness history — enabling you to provide more interesting features in your app like personalized coaching, better insights, fitness recommendations and more.” Keep reading>>

FCC sets year-end deadline for text-to-911 for carriers, but call centers lag behind

By: Jonah Comstock | Aug 11, 2014        

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FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai

FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai

Last week, the FCC passed an order accelerating its text-to-911 roll out by requiring all carriers, as well as certain dedicated texting apps, to support text-to-911 by the end of the year. However, two members of the commission, Ajit Pai and Michael O’Reilly, dissented from the order, suggesting that because the public safety answering points (PSAPs) that process 911 calls aren’t moving at the same pace as carriers, the order won’t have much affect — and could even be detrimental as people try to text 911 in areas where the technology isn’t in place.

Making 911 services available via text messaging has been a priority of the FCC for a number of years. It makes emergency services more available for deaf or non-speaking people, allows people who are in immediate danger to discreetly contact emergency services, and can be used by choking victims or others for whom the nature of an emergency also makes it difficult for them to speak. At the end of 2012, the four largest wireless carriers, AT&T, Sprint, Verizon Wireless, and T-Mobile USA, agreed voluntarily to have the service ready by May 2014, which they have now done.

This order requires the remaining, smaller carriers to follow suit, and further applies to any text message provider that allows users to text to and from US phone numbers. Starting at the end of the year, it gives carriers six months to comply if a local 911 call center asks them to provide messaging services. It will also require providers to set up bounce back messages that will inform people in areas without text-to-911 that they have to call. Text to 911 is currently up and running in 100 call centers, including all over the states of Vermont and Maine. Keep reading>>

Beam Technologies gets $5M for smart toothbrush

By: Aditi Pai | Aug 11, 2014        

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beam brush appLouisville, Kentucky-based smart toothbrush maker Beam Technologies raised $5 million in a round led by Drive Capital for its manual smartphone connected toothbrush. This brings the company’s total announced funding to date to $5.5 million.

“We’ve been working hard to transform the mundane two minutes people spend brushing their teeth to create a highly engaging user experience — so much so that on our first run, the Beam Brush sold out,” Beam Technologies CEO Alex Frommeyer said in a statement.

The new funds will be used to scale the product and open a new office for the company in Columbus, Ohio.

The connected toothbrush, called Beam Brush, which received FDA 510(k) clearance in July 2012, has an embedded accelerometer that tracks a user’s brushing schedule. The sensor can measure how long a user brushes and how often. This information is sent to a companion smartphone app via Bluetooth so that users can see their brushing trends over time. The app encourages users to brush for two minutes and during this time it will play music.

In October 2013, Beam announced a second product, called the Beam Brush Bug, which is a small adhesive accelerometer they can attach to any toothbrush or flossing device. While the sensor-embedded version costs $24.99, the Beam Brush Bug cost $19.99 in preorders.

This year, several other connected toothbrush companies have announced products.

In February, dental hygiene company Oral-B announced its Bluetooth-connected electric toothbrush line, SmartSeries. SmartSeries will offer users six different brushing modes — daily cleaning, deep clean, whitening, gum care, sensitive, tongue cleaning — so that users can personalize their brushing experience with their dentist. The app starts a timer when the user begins to brush and leads the user through whichever brushing routine suits their needs.

A few months later, a startup, Kolibree, launched a Kickstarter campaign for its smartphone connected electric toothbrush, which raised $30,000 over its $70,000 goal. Kolibree’s connected toothbrush has sensors that detect not only how long users brushed their teeth, but also whether they hit all the hard to reach places between gums and teeth. Kolibree wants brushing to last two minutes and the app will alert the user when time is up. Since the app doesn’t run in the background, while brushing, users can scroll their Twitter feed, watch a video, or listen to a song through Kolibree’s app.

CareDox raises $2.5M for mobile medical record platform for schools

By: Aditi Pai | Aug 11, 2014        

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CareDoxNew York City-based mobile medical record system CareDox raised $2.5 million, according to an SEC filing.

The filing also notes that they company aims to raise a total of just over $3 million. CareDox has raised around $4 million to date.

Existing CareDox investors include First Round Capital, Charles River Ventures, Band of Angels, and Giza Ventures.

Schools and parents can use CareDox’s online and mobile platform to store students’ data. Through the platform, academic institutions will have access to a student’s immunization records, medical history, allergies, medications, and special dietary needs. CareDox believes this platform will help parents avoid filling out forms with this data every year before school starts.

Parents have control over who can see the data in their CareDox account and some potential viewers could be nurses, teachers, camp leaders, cafeteria staff, administrators, coaches, bus drivers, and principals. The data is accessible via mobile devices or online. The company adds that this data could also be helpful for camps and daycares.

The company created CareDox from another product, called MotherKnows, which was an online health record service that allowed parents to view their child’s medical records via the web or mobile applications. In 2011, MotherKnows raised $1.7 million in seed funding. At the time, the company’s plans for the product included targeting other consumer groups with specific health needs, such as home health care, and extended families.

Then in March 2012, the company joined StartUp Health’s three-year accelerator alongside Basis and Medivo.

The rise of the seemingly serious but “just for entertainment purposes” medical app

By: Brian Dolan | Aug 7, 2014        

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Instant Blood PressureLast month iMedicalApps’ Dr. Iltifat Husain penned a great piece of reporting on a paid iPhone app that purported to a sense user’s blood pressure using just the phone’s camera. Apart from the troubling claim, the developer said it was using a method developed by Johns Hopkins (which has denied any ties to the group). What’s more, the $3.99 app, called Instant Blood Pressure, was one of the top 10 “paid” and “most grossing” medical apps in the AppStore in mid-July. At the end of the app’s description, however, it added a fairly prevalent disclaimer: that the app is just for “recreational” purposes.

This week MobiHealthNews sought out apps in Apple’s AppStore that appeared to pitch themselves as useful medical or health-focused apps, but also included some iteration of that common legal disclaimer: “For entertainment purposes only”. While none of the apps we found appear to be trying to take advantage of their users with a fantastical claim, like some have suggested the Instant Blood Pressure app does, the inclusion of the “entertainment” disclaimer is still a bit puzzling and even humorous for some of these apps.

After all, how entertaining is a medical calculator app that helps you figure out the stages of a patient’s acute tubular necrosis? I’m not a doctor. I’ve never attempted such a calculation myself. But I’m guessing it’s not particularly fun.

Perhaps most surprising to me after reviewing the health and medical apps with promises of entertainment value are the handful of big healthcare companies that are including this disclaimer. Sure, larger companies are more risk-averse and more apt to adopt disclaimers, but for a lot of apps, this practice borders on the ridiculous.

Without further ado, and in no particular order, here’s a roundup of otherwise serious-seeming health and medical apps that hedge with “entertainment only” in the fine print:  Keep reading>>