Most patients want their doctors to prescribe apps

By: Jonah Comstock | Jul 1, 2013        

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A mobile app released last year by Pfizer.

A staggering 90 percent of chronic patients in the US would accept a mobile app prescription from their physician, as opposed to only 66 percent willing to accept a prescription of medication, according to a recent survey from health communications firm Digitas Health. Digitas presented preliminary research findings at a recent event in London, PMLiVE reports.

The data comes out shortly after the launch of WellDoc’s BlueStar, the first “mobile integrated therapy” that can be prescribed through existing Rx channels and paid for through private health plans.

Digitas Health surveyed 2,000 patients with 20 different cardiac, gastrointestinal, and respiratory diseases as well as CNS and diabetes. The full report is due out in the fall.

“[In Europe], we certainly look at physicians and pharmacists as more of our primary targets. But at the end of the day, the patients are the ones that take the pill and it is the patient that has to have the positive outcome from that medication,” Geoff McCleary, VP and director of mobile innovation at Digitas Health, told PMLiVE. “So we wanted to make sure we had a better understanding of the patient type and their mobile health activities.”

The study found that users of mobile applications for health skewed mostly female and spanned all different age groups. More than 60 percent of mobile health users with chronic conditions had been living with their disease for more than 3 years, as opposed to people who had just been diagnosed.

Digitas Health has spoken before about the opportunities for pharma in the mobile health space. Marty DeAngelo, vice president and director of interactive design at Digitas Health, wrote last year that out of 25 major drug brands, only 3 had mobile-enabled websites.

McCleary also said the study showed patients were very willing to spend money on digital health directly, even outside of a prescription. He also said that of the mobile health users surveyed, 60 percent were considering switching their medication.

“Patients are taking adherence and treatment to a whole other level in their own hands, without going to pharma. They’re downloading health apps, they’re buying wireless scales, they’re buying Nike Fuelbands and they’re collecting that data and using that data to better improve their general health outcomes, or outcomes specific to a disease they may have,” he said. “They’re doing that without us, and we as experts on the drugs and the products we make have a great opportunity to help them even more by providing even more information tools and resources for them to use in conjunction with our medicines.”

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MIT Media Lab spinoff EyeNetra raises $2M

By: Aditi Pai | Jul 1, 2013        

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OneSight’s Mission Trip – Nairobi, Kenya

Somerville, Massachusetts-based EyeNetra, which has developed a mobile-enabled eye diagnostic tool raised $2 million in funding last week, according to an SEC filing. EyeNetra hopes to serve the 2.4 billion people worldwide that don’t have glasses, but need them.

The MIT Media Lab Camera Culture Group spinoff allows anyone to take an eye exam using the device, Netra-G, that connects to a smartphone. Netra-G measures nearsightedness, farsightedness and astigmatism. After the test, the companion app connects the user to healthcare providers and vendors depending on his or her eye condition on a cloud-based program Test2Connect.

In 2011, the Camera Culture group developed a smartphone peripheral, Catra, that detects cataracts. MobiHealthNews reported last year that future diagnostics from EyeNetra might include a cataracts diagnostic test and retina related diagnostic tests.

Earlier this year, Dr. Ramesh Raskar spoke at TEDMED about the Camera Culture Group’s newest project, eyeMITRA. Unlike EyeNetra, this device doesn’t snap on to mobile phones, instead eyeMITRA is a pair of smart glasses that displays a realtime image of the wearer’s fundus. Raskar said the technology could be useful as an inexpensive, smaller diagnostic tool for early diagnosis of diabetic retinopathy, a complication of diabetes which can lead to blindness.

Zombies, Run! makers to launch spy-themed walking app

By: Jonah Comstock | Jun 28, 2013        

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screenshot-4in-2-1London, UK-based Six to Start, the creators of runaway hit fitness game Zombies, Run! announced this week they are creating a new game that will use the same gamified, story-centric approach as Zombies, Run! but without the zombies — or the running.

Tentatively titled “The Walk,” the game will be a spy thriller and it will be focused on getting people to move more and generally be more active. It’s being sponsored by the British Department of Health and the National Health Service (NHS) in London.

“The working title of this app is ‘The Walk,'” co-founder and chief creative officer Adrian Hon of Six to Start said at the Games For Health conference in Boston. “It does what it says on the tin. You are going to walk more with this app and it’s going to be fun. It’s very different from Zombies, Run! It started out being ‘Zombies, Walk!’ but then we realized that didn’t make any sense whatsoever.”

Zombies, Run! is a fitness app which incorporates an audiobook with the phone’s GPS and accelerometer to present the user with an interactive narrative, which both entertains them during their run and, during certain “zombie chase” segments, specifically encourages the user to pick up the pace.

Naomi Alderman, the head writer on both Zombies, Run! and The Walk, said the new game is also told in second person. The user is given a package to carry on a train from Inverness to Edinburgh, but terrorists bomb the train and set off an EMP that knocks out all cars, so the hero has to walk to deliver the package — while being pursued by both the terrorists and the police.

“Instead of focusing on your daily — or a couple of times a week — bout of exercise, this is something that will track what you’re doing throughout the day and encourage you to go a little bit further,” Alderman said. “In the same way that with a great game or a great TV show you might go ‘Oh, just one more episode, just one more chapter before bed.’ We want people to be saying ‘Just one more walk around the block before I get home. I just want to hear the next bit of this.'”

The app will be sold commercially even though it’s government sponsored. Hon and Alderman said that charging for an app (Zombies, Run! is $8) motivates users to value it and makes them more likely to use it.

Zombies, Run! launched a year ago as a crowdfunding project on Kickstarter. The app now has half a million downloads, according to the company, several spin-off apps, and a major update the company refers to as a “second season.” Hon said that encouraging users to think of the product more like a TV show than a health app is a good way to encourage long-term usage.

“Story’s the biggest difference between this game and the other games that exist on the AppStore,” he said. “We want to make a game people will play again and again, not just for weeks but for months. And there’s not that many habits we do that often except, maybe, watching soap operas and watching TV.”

In keeping with that philosophy, the company is going to begin releasing regular weekly updates to the story.

Hon and Alderman announced a few additional bits of news at the conference. Hon announced that ZombieLink, the back-end of Zombies, Run! where users can look at statistics from their runs (including tracking the progress of the virtual zombies behind them), will introduce a social component, so users can friend one another and share statistics.

In addition, according to Hon, the University of Texas and the American Heart Association will run a randomized control trial of Zombies, Run! in the fall to “find out whether it actually improves health,” according to Hon.

How Medtronic uses iPad games to train surgeons

By: Jonah Comstock | Jun 28, 2013        

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Medtronic CatalystNew surgeries, tools, and techniques are developed often, and medical device companies say it can be tricky to get surgeons to adopt them sometimes. After all, there are no unimportant patients, and no one wants to be their surgeon’s first attempt at a new procedure.

Part of Minneapolis-based Medtronic’s sales team’s job is to encourage surgeons who have tried and true procedures to get trained on new procedures. And they’ve found that iPads — and a specially developed gamified simulator — are an effective way to do that.

“Before these types of interactive training simulations, a surgeon didn’t have a reason to learn better ways to do a spine surgery if he’s in a comfort zone,” Leif Goranson, a training and education specialist at Medtronic, said in a presentation at the Games For Health conference in Boston this week. “If he feels like there’s a new and better way, he might try that or he might at least try to get educated on that.” Keep reading>>

Sparx game combats depression among youth

By: Aditi Pai | Jun 28, 2013        

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SPARXAlthough depression hits youth of all ages, a large percentage of young people are left untreated, CEO of LinkedWellness David Burt said during a talk at the Games For Health event in Boston this week. Causes that he cited included stigma, inconvenience of therapy appointments, fear of drug side effects and cost of drugs and therapy. While searching for a solution to this problem, Burt and his team came across New Zealand-based Sparx, a video game to help youth cope with depression that was created by University of Auckland Associate Professor Sally Merry. She and her team were grappling with the same predicament as Burt.

“This is the question Sally Merry asked herself six or seven years ago,” Burt said. “She’s trying to fix adolescent depression in New Zealand and all these people are playing video games, so her question was ‘What does Grand Theft Auto have that we do not have?’ Obviously it’s an immersive video game.”

The object of Sparx is for the player to rid him or herself of negative thoughts and aim to reach ‘hope’. Within the game, the avatars that a patient can play as have New Zealand accents, which Burt believes will add to the fantasy of the game for an American audience. Burt also sees this is a possible treatment option for the influx of patients that hospitals will receive after the Affordable Care Act fully takes effect.

“Games like this involve self efficacy,” Burt said. “The player develops his or her avatar and walks through the fantasy world shooting down negative, automatic thoughts which can cause and perpetuate depression [while] developing skills — skills that are sustainable. This is not taking a pill and waiting for something to happen to your brain.”

After conducting a clinical trial with 94 participants, some of which were indigenous Maori people, Merry’s results were published in the British Medical Journal. Burt plans on launching the product in the fall and then running a clinical trial with an American audience soon afterwards.

Video games can keep seniors moving, but only if they play them

By: Jonah Comstock | Jun 28, 2013        

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ExergameStudies have shown that exercise video games, or exergames, can benefit elderly people who sometimes have trouble getting enough daily physical activity. But few studies have dealt with the question of how to get older people to engage with video games in the first place.

“I can give you a stationary bike, but if you don’t bike it, I doubt that you will get any benefits from it,” said Annerieke Heuvelink, a researcher with Dutch research firm TNO, at the Games For Health conference this week in Boston. “And [recent] studies were all done in very structured settings. People either came into a lab, doing something three times a week, or they would go to a certain senior place regularly, and they all did it because they were told to do it.”

Working with the Mayo Clinic at their Healthy Living Lab in Rochester, Minnesota, Heuvelink recently led a pilot of 19 seniors where they were given training and unstructured access to exergames. Although the sample size was very small, the study did yield some insights about what factors are correlated with engagement in exercise games for older people.

All the participants were shown how to play the game in two initial sessions during a three-week orientation period. Researchers also helped half of the participants to build a personalized avatar. The others were given default avatars. Then the games were made available to study participants for 12 weeks in a special room at the Charter House independent living facility. The study offered five different Kinect titles including sports and adventure games. Some didn’t play at all after the initial orientation, while others played weekly and even continued to play after the study was over. Ultimately about half of the participants played on a regular basis.

The study found that the top predictor of participation was frequency of already playing computer games — even if the computer games in question were, in Heuvelink’s words, “basically Freecell and Freecell.” The next biggest predictor was engagement with games in general, not just video games but also board games.

“My hunch is it’s more about people that think their time is worth playing games. They have enough time and they want to spend it playing games because they enjoy it,” she said.

The other three statistically significant predictors were how outgoing or social the person was, how good the person believed themselves to be at the games, and their score on a short physical performance battery — that is, people who were already fit were more likely to play the games. There was no statistically significant difference due to age, gender, BMI or cognitive function (although conditions like Alzheimer’s and dementia were exclusionary criteria for the study).

Anecdotally, Heuvelink found that many older people resonated with particular games from their past. One man who boxed on his college team became attached to Kinect boxing, even though it was one of the more strenuous games offered in the pilot. Heuvelink stressed that older people in the study chose to play these games, even though they weren’t designed for them. She hopes that if a company tackles designing an exergame just for seniors, developers will draw from the data in this small pilot study.