Fitbit to customers: May the Force not be with you

By: Jonah Comstock | Feb 21, 2014        

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Fitbit ForceFitbit has announced a voluntary recall of the Fitbit Force after a number of users complained of somewhat mysterious bouts of skin irritation, usually occurring a number of weeks after they began wearing the tracker.

“Recently, some Force users have reported skin irritation,” Fitbit CEO James Park said in an open letter to customers. “While only 1.7 percent of Force users have reported any type of skin irritation, we care about every one of our customers. On behalf of the entire Fitbit team, I want to apologize to anyone affected.”

Fitbit does not appear to have isolated the cause of the reaction, which was initially thought to be an allergic reaction to nickel in the bracelet’s fastener. A recent report in Consumer Affairs points out a number of inconsistencies between peoples’ reaction to the Force and the typical nickel allergy, however, including the time frame and location of the rashes, and the fact that one person reported reacting despite wrapping the device in electrical tape.

“All Force materials are commonly used in consumer products,” Park wrote. “However, some users may be reacting to the nickel present in the surgical grade stainless steel used in the device. Other users are likely experiencing an allergic reaction to the materials used in the strap or the adhesives used to assemble the product.”

Perhaps because the cause is still unclear, Fitbit is not offering to replace users’ Force wristbands with a new device. Instead, Force customers who send in their device can receive a full refund on the device. Park said in the same letter that Fitbit’s next generation device is coming soon, implying that the company will simply be moving on with its product pipeline, rather than trying to fix the Force. Additional Fitbit Forces will not be sold by the company.

Fitbit is not the first activity tracker company to issue a voluntary recall and discontinue a product. In 2011, Jawbone experienced an early stumble in the space, when it voluntarily recalled the first generation of its UP bracelet in 2011 following reports of numerous electronic problems. That recall set the company back a full year, almost sinking Jawbone’s health tracker business before it began.

The news comes at a time when Fitbit’s profile is quite high: Last month, the NPD group released data indicating that Fitbit is leading its competitors by a significant margin in retail sales, making up 67 percent of the full-body activity trackers sold in 2013.


Half of mobile health app users are using fitness apps

By: Jonah Comstock | Feb 21, 2014        

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Citrix health app dataFifty-two percent of adult smartphone and tablet owners use their mobile health apps more now than they did when they first downloaded them, according to a recent survey of 1,000 US adults by Wakefield Research, commissioned by Citrix. Citrix released the survey data as well as a report on mobile traffic sourced from ByteMobile subscribers.

“The fitness category of mobile health apps tends to generate a higher network load than other mobile health apps, due to the periodic updating of the user’s status, such as a runner’s progress along a route,” Citrix writes in the report. “We expect that activity trackers and other wearables such as the FitBit, Nike+, Pebble and Samsung Galaxy Gear smartwatch will generate ever greater network impact as they integrate more fitness and mobile health apps into their functionality.”

Among ByteMobile subscribers, fitness and weight loss apps were by far the most popular downloads, followed by pregnancy and fertility apps. So far this year, 50 percent of mobile health app users were fitness app users, up from 39 percent in 2013. Citrix also published a list of the top 10 mobile health apps, ranked by the number of network-connected subscribers.

Almost a quarter of ByteMobile subscribers used Runtastic, the number one app on the list. In second place was MyFitnessPal, followed by RunKeeper, each scoring more than 15 percent of users.

Weight Watchers came in a distant fourth, followed by Nike+ and MapMyRun. Lose It! had only the ninth most subscribers, making it the only fitness app on the list to score below two women’s health apps — Pregnancy and Period Diary. Pregnancy app Baby Bump was the final app on the list.

Objective data on download and subscriber numbers for health apps can be hard to find. Last fall MobiHealthNews wrote about the self-reported download numbers of seven fitness apps. At that point, Runtastic reported 18 million registered users and 40 million downloads, nine times as many users as it had reported a year previously. MyFitnessPal, meanwhile, had 40 million users and RunKeeper had recently reported 22.5 million users.

Oral-B announces Bluetooth connected toothbrush

By: Aditi Pai | Feb 21, 2014        

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OralBDental hygiene company Oral-B announced its Bluetooth-connected electric toothbrush line, SmartSeries, which will be available in Germany this spring and in the United States in June. The Oral-B companion app will be available in iOS in May, and in Android in August.

Oral-B will also add connectivity to some of its other electric toothbrushes.

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 and will immediately alert users when they apply too much pressure while brushing. Users can see a graphical view of their brushing performance over time.

“[Our Bluetooth connected toothbrush] provides the highest degree of user interaction to track your oral care habits to help improve your oral health, and we believe it will have significant impact on the future of personal oral care, providing data-based solutions for oral health, and making the relationship between dental professionals and patients a more collaborative one,” Wayne Randall, vice president of Global Oral Care at Procter and Gamble, said in a statement.

Oral-B is the first prominent dental health company to come out with a connected toothbrush, but some smaller startups have been working on this technology for a few years.

The first connected toothbrush came out at CES 2013, Beam Technologies’ Beam Brush. The brush costs $24.99 and sends data about the user’s brushing behaviors to a connected app. Beam Brush also gained FDA clearance in June 2012.

At this year’s CES, another company, Paris, France-based Kolibree, launched a connected toothbrush. Unlike Beam Brush, which is a manual toothbrush, Kolibree’s offering is electric. According to the company, the sensors in the brush detect not only how long you brushed your teeth, but also whether you hit all the hard to reach places between gums and teeth. The brushing data will also be available via an API, so third party developers can build games or other applications that use the smart toothbrush.

In-Depth: A brief history of digital patient engagement tools

By: MobiHealthNews | Feb 21, 2014        

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Without a doubt patient engagement is one of the more important trends in healthcare and health IT right now. Over the past few years the tools that look to enable patient engagement between providers and patients have changed markedly. It is important to note, however, that the tools themselves are just a small part of the story — they can go a long way toward improving patient engagement, though. The drivers of the patient engagement buzz are varied, but one big one is the federal government’s Office of the National Coordinator’s (ONC) Meaningful Use (MU) program, which is beginning to include requirements for very basic patient engagement services.  Keep reading>>

Mayo Clinic spin-off raises $1.1M for mobile data management tools

By: Jonah Comstock | Feb 20, 2014        

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ambientRochester, Minnesota-based Ambient Clinical Analytics, a startup that will soon begin selling mobile hospital data management tools developed at the Mayo Clinic, has raised $1.1 million from the Social+Capital Partnership, Rock Health, and the Mayo Clinic itself.

“Fifteen to 20 years ago, the medical technology world was swept by analytics-based business intelligence and process intelligence systems. They were referred to as bolt-ons to the large enterprise systems,” CEO Al Berning told MobiHealthNews. “I saw almost exact parallels to the market within [clinical systems], in that most hospitals have large EMR systems. We don’t compete with EMR systems, we work to make that data more useful. I believe that same opportunity exists in medical, where you have massive amounts of data but not a lot of tools to sort through that data, using algorithms to make it more useful.”

Ambient will market three software platforms developed and tested by Mayo Clinic physicians, all of which are designed to make it easier for doctors to extract the information they need for a particular patient at a particular time from their hospitals’ information systems. The first is called AWARE, which stands for Ambient Warning and Response Evaluation. It’s an interface for EMR data that prioritizes and organizes a patient’s medical information in three ways: by organ, chronologically as a timeline, or as a customized checklist that displays only the next steps relevant to that case.

“Being able to combine the massive amounts of EMR data with lab data and monitor data and integrate it all into a concise viewer that sorts and provides the information that’s needed at that time for that patient is novel,” Berning said. “Throughout the industry, clinicians have adopted it and published research and done conferences throughout the world and gotten feedback from their peers that there’s nothing out there that does that combination.”

Another product, called YES Board, is a patient tracking tool for emergency departments. The system, which has been used at Mayo for about five years, allows all staff members in the emergency department to monitor the location and status of all patients from monitor screens throughout the department.

“Every staff member at a glance can see exactly where each patient is, tracking them from the waiting room into various segments throughout the emergency department,” Berning said. “Instead of the doctor poking their head in every 15 minutes asking ‘Is the suture kit here yet?’, as they’re walking down the hall, they can see Katie’s suture kit hasn’t arrived yet.”

The final tool, called Synthesis, is a mobile viewer for both AWARE and YES Board, allowing doctors to access the same information from their iPads or iPhones.

Berning said Ambient will use the funds for three things: Hiring a sales staff to start marketing the technology, applying for FDA 510(k) clearance for AWARE, and further refining and enhancing the products. Up until now, Mayo Clinic has been using AWARE under a research exception, but Ambient will require clearance as a Class 2 device in order to market it.

Via a CMS grant, Mayo Clinic has already deployed some of the tools to three other hospitals outside of the Rochester, Minnesota Mayo Clinic site where the technology was developed, including hospitals in Massachusetts and Ohio.

Report: Despite growth, connected device market is minority in Europe

By: Aditi Pai | Feb 20, 2014        

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Example of connected weight scale from Withings

Withings connected weight scale

Mobile-connected blood pressure monitor sales grew by 42 percent across Great Britain, Germany, France, and the Netherlands from 2012 to 2013 and connected personal weighing scale sales rose by 88 percent, according to market research firm GfK.

GfK added that despite this growth, the connected device market in Europe is still a minority market.

Last year, connected device sales made up 5.5 percent of the total market of blood pressure monitors sold across these four European countries, but this total is up from 3.7 percent in 2012. Connected scales rose to 3.3 percent from 1.8 percent in 2012.

In France, home to connected device developer Withings, connected blood pressure monitors have a 17.4 percent market share. Connected scales have 6.3 percent market share in Germany and 12.1 percent market share in the Netherlands.

“Consumers are willing to pay around 100 euros more for a connected personal scale and 50 euros more for a connected blood pressure monitor, compared to the non-connected models,” GfK global director Udo Jansen said in a statement. “With 2014 being the year of ‘mobile health’ as well as wearable technology devices, the popular media buzz around these topics is likely to have a positive effect on consumers’ awareness of the potential benefits on offer.”

In March 2013, Kalorama released a report on remote patient monitoring in the US. In the report, Kalorama found the US market increased from $8.9 billion in 2011 to $10.6 billion in 2012, an increase of 19 percent. The year before, Kalorama predicted the market would grow by 18 percent annually, which would put the US market at $20.9 billion by 2016.

Just a month after Kalorama released its report, GBI Research released its own report, which found that by 2019 the remote patient monitoring market in the US will reach $296.5 million, up from $104.5 million in 2012. The firm said that the market will grow at a compound annual growth rate of 16 percent over the next few years.