Digital health sensing clothes are next in wearables

By: Brian Dolan | Jun 20, 2013        

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Brian Dolan, Editor, MobiHealthNewsSomeday soon having to remember to put on your digital health tracking device in the morning might no longer be an issue. If the latest crop of health-minded wearables companies succeed, health sensors will make their way into things we are already wearing — like undershirts, underwear, and socks.

Digital health wearables are slowly but surely making their way into clothing.

One longtime digital health company, Annapolis, MD-based Zephyr Technology, introduced its Zephyr BioHarness 3 Team Compression Shirt at a strength training event in Rhode Island last summer. The fabric of the shirt itself doesn’t have any sensors integrated into it, but it is designed so that the company’s BioHarness 3 can snap into place right where it should be on the wearer’s chest. The shirt is similar to the one Zephyr used to power for Under Armour, called E39, which was famously used in the NFL Combine in 2011.

Since then smart fabrics have evolved and new startups are springing up to bring them to market. OMsignal, which just announced a $1 million seed round from Real Ventures, Golden Venture Partners, and TechStars CEO David Cohen, is in early production with an undershirt that has sensors woven into the fabric. The shirt captures ECG, activity, breathing patterns and “emotive” states on a continuous basis and presents that data to the wearer via an app on their mobile device. While the shirt can track ECG, the app doesn’t show it in that form because the company itself isn’t looking to make the shirt an FDA regulated medical device.

Today dozens of people are testing OMsignal’s compression shirt — including people from high profile companies like Facebook and Google to create a buzz around the new product — not unlike Google’s marketing plan for Google Glass. The company also has a bra version of the wearable.

“Others have come at this from a textile perspective or an electronics perspective, but if you go from only one perspective, it is not going to work,” OMsignal Co-founder and Chief Product Officer Frederic Chanay told me. “If you want to do a shirt that is comfortable, wearable, washable and manufacturable at scale, you need to understand and respect textile technology.”

While most of the sensors are made out of smart textiles and woven into the shirt, OMsignal still requires its early users to wear a clip-on device that houses the accelerometer and the Bluetooth radio. Chanay says that while this device is currently about one-third the size of an iPhone, the company is working to make it smaller and get it integrated into the garment itself, too. OMsignal aims to get this piece of the device much smaller and, in time, maybe even down to the size of a shirt button.

Meanwhile, a couple of former Xbox Kinect developers have left Microsoft to create Heapsylon, a company that is developing sensor-laden socks. The socks, which the inventors call Sensoria and claim are washable and comfortable — not scratchy — are launching with very detailed tracking capabilities for runners. Some of the things the sock can track include: cadence, pronation, heel-striking, and I would imagine they might claim to be more accurate trackers of steps than their wristworn ancestors.

Of course, Misfit Wearables is also likely to offer up some kind of sensor-laden piece of clothing later this year or early next — the company’s second trademark filing, which was granted this past April, makes that pretty clear. According to the trademark filing the company is focused on: “Clothing, namely, outer jackets, shirts, pants, footwear, shoe soles, headwear and undergarments, all the foregoing having health monitoring sensors embedded.”

Goodbye, rubber and plastic wristbands. Hello, smart fabric.


American Well contracts in Louisiana, Massachusetts are first to emphasize care quality

By: Neil Versel | Jun 20, 2013        

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American Well Online Care Mobile App for Consumers (iPad)Telehealth service provider American Well has signed big contracts for online care with the likes of the US Department of Veterans Affairs, Rite Aid, United Healthcare, WellPoint and various Blues plans, but two deals announced last week broke new ground for the Boston-based company.

“These are the first to embrace telehealth under the flag of improving [care] quality,” American Well CEO Dr. Roy Schoenberg says of new partnerships with Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts and with Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana, the largest private payers in their respective states.

In Louisiana, Blue Cross and Blue Shield will offer American Well to patients through the insurer’s Quality Blue Primary Care program that focuses on quality improvement and population health management. Massachusetts Blues will pilot the service among certain, yet-to-be-announced hospitals and physician groups participating in Blue Cross Blue Shield’s Alternative Quality Contract payment model.

American Well’s Online Care offering lets patients set-up on demand, video-enabled visits with physicians via their computers or through an iPad, iPhone, or Android device.

“Both of them recognize that telehealth is a fundamental component of being able to pay for quality healthcare and quality outcomes,” Schoenberg says.

The two insurance companies will deploy American Well’s technology in slightly different ways, though there certainly will be some crossover. Massachusetts Blues is looking to offer more potential “touch points” between patients and physicians, especially for managing post-acute care, according to Schoenberg. Louisiana Blues hopes to increase access to care among its large, badly underserved rural population and better manage chronic diseases in a state where diabetes and obesity are rampant.

American Well’s platform is “flexible enough for users to use as they see fit,” according to Gregory LeGrow, director of Network Innovation at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts, and the insurer will allow providers to decide who they use the technology with, even patients not covered by a Blues plan. “Blue Cross members will have some preferential pricing,” LeGrow tells MobiHealthNews.

Providers also will have the option of waiving fees for Blue Cross Blue Shield members, part of the payer’s attempt to incentivize telehealth as an alternative to traditional office visits for routine care. “We really believe it’s going to get the most value when we align the incentives among the providers, the patients and us, the payer,” LeGrow says.

Schoenberg agrees. “Insurance companies are aligning incentives and giving docs the tools they need to carry out their activities,” he says in a separate interview.

Announced last week at America’s Health Insurance Plans (AHIP) Exchange Conference in Las Vegas, the two programs will launch in the fall, according to Schoenberg. American Well also expects to name a third Blues plan in another state in a matter of days.

Massachusetts Blues will let its pilot run for about two years in order to give doctors and patients alike enough time to get comfortable with the technology that they generate sufficient data to evaluate the program, according to LeGrow. If it proves successful in reining in costs, providing wider access to care, improving the patient experience and, above all, producing better outcomes, the insurer will ramp up the program quickly. “That’s our intention with all our pilots,” LeGrow says.

Survey: 45 percent of smartphone users want online physician appointment booking

By: Aditi Pai | Jun 19, 2013        

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A large percentage of Americans want access to health services from their smartphone, but more want it through their laptop or desktop, according to a recently published survey conducted by Harris Interactive and HealthDay. This survey included responses from 2,050 adults who answered the questions online.

The survey asked how interested the respondents were in communicating with healthcare providers or obtaining diagnostic tests through a smartphone or tablet and what type of device patients prefer when communicating with a healthcare professional. The survey also asked how confident adults felt about the privacy of medical information when shared online.

Harris Survey

Some 43 percent of respondents were interested in asking doctors questions, another 45 percent were interested in booking appointments, while 42 percent were interested in checking the effects and side effects of a medicine. While the percentage differences between the age groups didn’t vary much, people over the age of 65 were less interested than other age groups. Of the healthcare services listed, the patients were least interested in getting reminders to participate in programs for exercise, diet, weight loss and other wellness programs.

When asked about diagnostic tests, respondents with a smartphone or tablet were most interested in getting their blood pressure (44 percent) and heartbeat checked for irregularities (42 percent) via their mobile device.

Even for respondents with a mobile device, their response when asked which device they preferred 39 percent were interested in using a laptop or desktop, in contrast to 33 percent who wanted a smartphone and 23 percent who wanted a tablet.

When it comes to confidence in the security of their healthcare information, 51 percent of the smartphone and tablet users were somewhat confident in having that information somewhere online, while 14 percent were very confident. For more survey results, visit the Harris Interactive website.

Scanadu raises $1 million on Indiegogo, buys more time to crowdfund medical tricorder device

By: Jonah Comstock | Jun 19, 2013        

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Scanadu CEO Walter De Brouwer (right) and Star Trek's Leonard Nimoy (center)

Scanadu CEO Walter De Brouwer (right) and Star Trek’s Leonard Nimoy (center)

Scanadu, the startup building a suite of smartphone-connected medical diagnostic tools for home use, is extending the Indiegogo campaign for its premier SCOUT device an additional month after hitting the $1 million mark. The extension, coupled with the fact that the company is only $300,000 away from the top funded project on Indiegogo, Scanadu is on track to become the most-funded project in the site’s 5-year history. UPDATE 7/12/2013: With 8 days left, Scanadu has surpassed the previous record of $1.37 million to become the most funded project ever on Indiegogo.

“People want to be empowered, to keep our own records,” Scanadu CEO Walter De Brouwer told MobiHealthNews in an email.” This is why we chose to do Indiegogo in the first place, to give people the chance to join us and help us make this a reality. The response we’ve gotten on Indiegogo — from more than 90 countries — only validates that we’ve struck a nerve that’s truly universal.”

As MobiHealthNews reported at the start of Scanadu’s campaign, the backers who are receiving SCOUTs are all technically usability testers for the device, which is not yet cleared by the FDA. As of now, more than 4,000 Scanadu SCOUT devices have been preordered — a pretty good sample size for a usability study.

“The more people involved in the usability study the better,” De Brouwer wrote. “We will learn more from them, get more feedback and hear from people all around the world about what is most important, what they are looking for. By crowdfunding the research aspect of it, we know we will build a device consumers want. They become the funders, the researchers, and the users.”

Because the devices hace sold so well, the devices will be available in black and white, not just white as originally offered. At least a few big names are funding the project. Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak contributed to the campaign, as did Eugene “Rod” Roddenberry, son of Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry. In a similar vein, the Scanadu team posted a picture of Leonard Nimoy — Star Trek’s original Spock — visiting the Scanadu headquarters. However, Scanadu said Nimoy is not backing the campaign, he’s merely a well-wisher.

Black ScanaduCurrently, the most-funded project of all time on Indiegogo raised $1.3 million to buy Nikolai Tesla’s old laboratory and turn it into a museum. It went viral with the support of popular webcomic/blog “The Oatmeal.” Right now, Scanadu is the third-most funded project (behind a Robot Dragonfly). It’s also the fastest funded project with a goal of over $20,000 in the site’s relatively short history. Two digital health projects fall into the top ten most-funded projects as of now: the Misfit Shine at number six and the Amiigo fitness bracelet at number nine.

Shine is currently experiencing some trouble getting all the devices shipped on time from their successful campaign, though not as much trouble as Kickstarter success story Pebble did. De Brouwer told MobiHealthNews that meeting shipping deadlines will not be a problem for Scanadu, but time will tell.

“We are in a different situation because we started building the tricorder from the bottom up two years ago, we did not start after our campaign,” he told MobiHealthNews. “The device has seen 18 iterations, the industrial design is ready, the algorithms are in place, the manufacturer is secured, the FDA audit trails are operational. For Scanadu this is just the end of the beginning. We did Indiegogo when we were over-ready.”

Apple improves Siri’s suicide prevention safeguard

By: Aditi Pai | Jun 19, 2013        

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Suicide HotlineOn the iOS 6 and iOS 7 versions of Siri, the digital assistant software has been updated so that it will offer to call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, instead of simply showing the nearest locations of suicide prevention centers like older versions of Siri did, according to Huffington Post. If the user chooses “no,” Siri lists options of the closest suicide prevention centers.

On Apple devices that aren’t phones, like an iPad or an iPod touch, Siri reads the phone number out loud, and also lists the closest suicide prevention centers.

Last month, the Center for Disease Control reported in 2009, the number of deaths due to suicide exceeded the number due to car accidents in the US.

In 2011, MobiHealthNews speculated about Siri’s capabilities in regards to mobile health. At the time, Siri could define medical terms, locate nearby hospitals, schedule a medication regimen, offer nutrition facts for popular brands, but little else.

At last year’s World Wide Developers Conference, Apple CEO Tim Cook thanked the developer community for creating incredible apps for the Apple App Store. Of those highlighted, he mentioned three health apps, an app that helped visually impaired or blind people better navigate streets, another that helped students learn human anatomy and a third that helped kids with autism and speech impediments more easily communicate and develop their communication skills. Although Apple promoted the impact of native health apps, Siri got updates to make it better at sports trivia.

This month’s Siri update, which adds in a suicide safeguard, is at least a first step in the right direction.

In somewhat related news, following the PRISM scandal, Apple released a note to explain the kind of requests it typically received from government agencies:

“The most common form of request comes from police investigating robberies and other crimes, searching for missing children, trying to locate a patient with Alzheimer’s disease, or hoping to prevent a suicide.”

PokitDok raises $1.5M for health price comparisons

By: Jonah Comstock | Jun 19, 2013        

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pokitdokPokitDok, a California-based healthcare price transparency service, has raised $1.5 million in its first round of funding, according to SEC documents. The company previously raised $1.3 million in seed funding in June 2012, and another $200,000 in December, bringing their total funding after this raise to $3 million.

Seattle entrepreneur and angel investor Jonathan Sposato mentioned in a recent podcast interview that he is an investor in the company. Sposato also mentioned his investment in fitness app startup EveryMove in the same interview. Other contributors to PokitDok’s original seed round last year include Charles River Ventures, Jeff Entress, the Ballast Fund, Albert Prast, Jason Portnoy, and Zach Zeitlin. John Backus, managing partner at New Atlantic Ventures, is also listed in the newest SEC document.

PokitDok was founded by Lisa Maki and Ted Tanner in 2011. It’s a mobile app and online service that lets users locate healthcare providers in their area, then do a price comparison of different quotes. If a provider doesn’t have prices listed, users can fill out a form describing their medical needs and payment options — cash, insurance, or healthcare savings account — and get a quote from the provider.

The company, which launched its iOS app in December, makes a point of  including all kinds of care providers including acupuncturists and homeopathic practitioners. It also allows users to rate their patient experience with different providers, which then gets added in to PokitDok’s database. Providers can leverage their profile pages on PokitDok’s site to attract certain kinds of patients, like those with health savings accounts.

Healthcare cost transparency is a much-sought goal in the world of digital health. Castlight Health, which raised $100 million last May and is widely believed to be on the road to IPO, offers a similar service, although it’s currently only available via employers, whereas PokitDok is direct to consumer. Other, smaller competitors include HealthInReach and ClearCost Health., an Indiegogo project with a similar mission, is planning to launch its beta next week.

The topic has also not escaped notice of the US Senate, whose Finance Committee held a two-hour hearing this week on healthcare price transparency. The witness panel included Castlight Health’s Giovanni Colella, as well as Steven Brill, author of a recent Time magazine cover story on healthcare price transparency.