FCC to offer rural hospitals $400M for telemedicine

By: Jonah Comstock | Jan 9, 2013        

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FCCThe Federal Communications Commission will provide $400 million in funding to rural hospitals and care facilities to support telemedicine infrastructure.

Starting at the end of the summer in 2013, nonprofit hospitals will be able to apply for funding to build or expand their broadband networks, allowing rural clinics to connect to urban medical centers to allow remote consultation with specialists and the sharing of electronic health records. Eligible care facilities will receive a 65 percent discount on broadband services, equipment, and connection to research and education networks. They can also get a 65 percent discount on constructing new facilities if they can show it’s the most cost effective way to get connected.

The funding will come through the FCC’s new Healthcare Connect Fund, the new permanent program implementation of the FCC’s Rural Healthcare pilot program, which began in 2006. It has more than 50 active pilots in rural hospitals across the country.

“The new Healthcare Connect Fund program builds on the success of the FCC’s Rural Healthcare pilot program and will expand the Commission’s health care broadband initiative from pilot to permanent program,” FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski said in a statement. “For years, the FCC’s primary healthcare program made it difficult for hospitals serving rural patients to get high bandwidth connections needed for modern telemedicine by limiting the services eligible for funding, and by making it hard for consortia to effectively bargain for the lowest cost service.”

The FCC said in a statement that the following groups are eligible for the funding: public or not-for-profit hospitals, rural health clinics, community health centers, health centers serving migrants, community mental health centers, local health departments or agencies, and post-secondary educational institutions, teaching hospitals, or medical schools. Starting in 2014, the FCC will also launch a Skilled Nursing Facilities Pilot Program, devoting up to $50 million of the funds to test how to effectively bring broadband to nursing facilities.

Such a show of support from the FCC bodes well for the passage of the Telehealth Promotion Act introduced to the House at the end of the last Congress. That bill, which is currently awaiting re-introduction, would help fund telehealth for individuals by making it easier to get reimbursed by Medicare and Medicaid.


iHealth adds smartphone-enabled glucometer, pulse ox

By: Jonah Comstock | Jan 9, 2013        

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iHealth pulse oximeteriHealth Labs, a California-based subsidiary of China’s Andon Health is expanding its line of iOS-enabled wireless health peripherals, the company announced at CES Las Vegas this week. The company will be adding a wireless blood glucometer and a wireless pulse oximeter to their product offerings, though FDA clearance is still pending for both devices.

iHealth currently makes blood pressure monitors for iOS devices, aimed at helping consumers at risk for heart disease, and connected weight scales for consumers concerned about their weight. The new Wireless Smart Gluco-Monitoring System provides an easy way for diabetics to check their blood glucose on the go from their medical devices. Interestingly, iHealth announced a plug-in iOS glucose meter, the iHealth Smart Glucometer, at last year’s CES, and even had a prototype onsite. While that device did secure FDA 510(k) clearance it never came to market.

The new device will send data wirelessly to the iHealth MyVitals App, announced in November, allowing users to record up to 500 readings, track trends, set up testing and medication reminders, and track test strip expiration dates.

A few smartphone-enabled pulse oximeters have recently hit the market, including Zensorium’s Tinke and Masimo’s new iSp02. But iHealth’s device is poised to break ground in at least two ways. For one thing, both the iSp02 and Tinke have to be plugged into the iPhone, while iHealth’s prototype is wireless. And if the device gains FDA clearance soon, as the company hopes, it would be one of the first smartphone-enabled pulse ox to do so. (Because Masimo’s device is marketed for pilots and climbers, it’s not required to get clearance as a health device).

iHealth’s pulse oximeter will measure pulse rate and blood oxygenation at the fingertip, displaying the readings on an LED screen as well as transmitting them via BlueTooth to the iHealth Cloud Service, where they can be accessed on mobile devices and shared to doctors or relatives. The company recommends the device for athletes and individuals with breathing problems.

The company says the devices will be available towards the end of 2013, with prices yet to be determined. iHealth Labs recently announced a deal with EHR-maker Practice Fusion and consumer app Evernote. It’s likely these devices, like iHealth’s existing suite, will be integrated with those systems.

NJ hospital JV tries gamification, crowdfunding for children’s health

By: Neil Versel | Jan 8, 2013        

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iMPak Health EmmettiMPak Health, Neptune City, N.J.-based creator of pocket-sized devices for ECG testing, sleep monitoring and pain management, is turning to crowdsourcing to fund its latest offering, a foray into gamification. However, the outreach has struggled to gain momentum.

iMPak, a joint venture of New Jersey hospital system Meridian Health and Swedish wireless technology vendor Cypak, has listed “Emmett’s Family Vacation” on crowdfunding site Kickstarter. The title is the first in a planned series of books and mobile games for young children — likely grades 2-4 — aimed at encouraging healthy behaviors and choices.

Children try to help a robot named Emmett get reunited with his family after they got separated on an intergalactic vacation to New York City. According to the Kickstarter posting, Emmett gets energy to contact his family only when kids are active.

“In this first book, children will learn that physical activity is necessary to be energized,” the posting says. The book will come with a pedometer and a vinyl Emmett character.

“Kids will be able to wear the pedometer each day and upload their steps to a mobile Emmett game.  Once the steps are loaded into the mobile game, their own personal Emmett will travel from their current location (GPS based) in a random direction,” the site says. Users earn badges for hitting movement milestones. “The motivation to keep Emmett traveling in the game will help motivate kids to take more steps each day,” according to iMPak.

The next story will focus on developing healthy sleep habits and dealing with stress, if iMPak lands enough money. However, the effort had raised less than $100 of the hoped-for $25,000 through Friday since it was posted Dec. 26. iMPak must hit the goal by Feb. 9. Donors of at least $250 are promised an appearance in cartoon form in the second book.

This Kickstarter project represents a break in several ways from earlier iMPak offerings, including its target audience, technology and funding strategy. The common thread of the three earlier creations since the joint venture launched in 2010 is that all use near-field communications (NFC) technology that is just starting to show up in commercial smartphones such as the Samsung Galaxy S III.

FDA cleared, app-enabled toothbrush now on sale

By: Neil Versel | Jan 8, 2013        

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Beam BrushThe Beam Brush, touted as the first toothbrush connected to a mobile app, officially hit the market on Monday, with consumer and professional offerings as well as a gamification aspect.

Beam Technologies, of Louisville, Ky., is selling the manual brush with embedded brushing sensor and Bluetooth radio, for $49.99. A free companion app for Android or Apple iOS tracks brushing habits, including frequency and duration, as well as time spent in each quadrant of the mouth. Users sync data to the smartphone app by pushing a button on the brush handle.

The app supports multiple users so families can compare statistics, and then upload data to their dentists. Beam Technologies is providing the connectivity free to dental practices that want to participate, and will be selling targeted advertising on the app for dentists to promote their services, the company says.

In a spin on gamification, Beam Technologies is providing a rewards program for people who meet certain targets, including the basic goal of brushing at least twice a day for two minutes each time. The app can play user-selected music for those two minutes. Beam says the music and an on-screen timer makes people 50 percent more likely to brush for the recommended two minutes, rather than the typical 46 seconds.

As MobiHealthNews previously reported, Beam Brush and the smartphone app gained FDA 510(k) clearance last June. Beam Technologies also is a member of the current class of digital health accelerator Rock Health.

The Beam Brush is available in blue or pink, with adult or child-size brush heads. Replacement brush heads cost $3.99. The brush draws power from one AA battery.

Merck Fund ups PatientSafe’s latest round to $20M

By: Neil Versel | Jan 8, 2013        

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PatientSafe SolutionsJust weeks after disclosing it had raised $13.3 million in venture capital, mobile clinical software developer PatientSafe Solutions has upped the total to $20 million to close its Series C financing round, the company said Monday.

The Merck Global Health Innovation Fund, a unit of pharmaceutical giant Merck & Co., led the round, which also included Camden Partners, TPG Capital and Psilos Group. As a result of the investment, San Diego-based PatientSafe has added Max Kahn, a Merck GHI principal, to its board.

PatientSafe, formerly known as IntelliDot, is not detailing how much each investor kicked in, but says it will use the money to ramp up marketing of its PatientTouch platform, a point-of-care suite that runs on iPod Touch enclosed in a waterproof case. The company also intends to add features aimed at helping hospitals meet “meaningful use” standards for electronic health records, increasing efficiency and preparing for the era of accountable care.

The PatientTouch package currently includes a barcode reader for patient identification and various communications technology to encourage collaboration. An iPhone version of the system supports Internet telephony.

A company statement suggests PatientSafe will be working with other technology vendors as well.

“This Series C round is an affirmation of our vision and strategy to move healthcare forward by arming providers with real-time actionable data and making care team workflows easier and more productive,” PatientSafe President and CEO Joe Condurso said. “I am delighted to work with Max Kahn and the Merck GHI team to build an open ecosystem of partners to continue to serve our current and future clients across all settings.”

According to CrunchBase, PatientSafe has raised more than $70 million in private equity to date, including a $30 million venture round that closed in February 2010.

Report: 179 digital health investors in 2012

By: Jonah Comstock | Jan 8, 2013        

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Digital health incubator Rock Health has released it’s 2012 year in review report, and it shows that venture capital investment in digital health is robust, if still tentative by some measures. Overall investment is up, but a large percentage of the numbers are accounted for by a few big deals and a few big investors.

rock health report

Venture capitalists invested $1.4 billion in digital health in 2012, a 45 percent jump from 2011, when $968 million was invested, the report states. The total number of deals was 56 percent higher. These numbers are even more impressive, the report suggested, when compared to declining venture capital investment in traditional health segments like biotechnology and medical devices.

More than a fifth of 2012 funding, however, was from just five major deals: a $100 million round for healthcare shopping platform Castlight Health, $50 million dollar rounds for GoHealth, Care.com, and 23andMe, and a $45.5 million dollar round for Best Doctors. Four of those five can be broadly described as healthcare shopping platforms: GoHealth is a tool for comparing insurance costs, Care.com helps families find caregivers, and Best Doctors helps employees choose the right physician. So it’s no surprise that Rock Health rated Health Consumer Engagement as the top category for digital health investment, with a total of $237 million invested.

The next category down, at $143 million, was personal health tools and tracking, followed by emergency medical records at $108 million and hospital administration at $78 million.

Perhaps the most striking number in the report, however, is that of the 179 digital health investors in 2012, 145 did only a single deal, and only eight did three or more. Within those eight, most major healthcare players are represented: telecommunications company Qualcomm Ventures, pharmaceutical company Merck (through the Merck Global Health Innovation Fund), insurer Blue Cross Blue Shield, and non-profit West Health. The other four are also familiar names to MobiHealthNews readers: Aberdare Ventures, NEA, Council Capital, and Khosla Ventures. Rock Health’s new Angel Group hopes to see that another major player is well-represented among investors next year: physicians themselves.

Forbes writer David Shaywitz, in his analysis of the report, suggested the surprising number of one-time-only investors could have several explanations, but one is that investors are still tentative about digital health startups — willing to try one out, but not willing to sink a substantial portion of their portfolio into the space.

The report also included some demographic statistics about digital health CEOs. Only 7 percent are women — a surprising figure considering, for comparison, the high percentage of women in the medical field. On the other hand, only 5 percent of digital health CEOs are MDs, compared to 37 percent with Bachelor’s degrees and 32 percent with MBAs.

The report was compiled by Rock Health Strategist in Residence Malay Gandhi and CEO Halle Tecco from information found in Capital IQ , the SEC, company websites, CrunchBase, the NVCA and the Rock Health‘s own funding database.