HealthTap adds two-pronged physician rating system

By: Neil Versel | Nov 2, 2012        

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HealthTapHealthTap, the online and mobile service that lets users ask health questions to physicians covering more than 100 medical specialties, is adding a two-faceted doctor rating system to help consumers make more informed choices.

HealthTap has introduced a “competition” to bring more transparency to the process of selecting a physician. The company is taking votes from users about each physician they have experienced, on non-medical factors including bedside manner, empathy and personality, according to the Palo Alto, Calif.-based company. At the same time, physicians can rate their peers in terms of medical knowledge.

As votes come in, the more than 16,000 physcians HealthTap says are now in its network will rise and fall in the rankings, based on medical speciality, procedure or specific health issue. Also factoring into the tally is the quality of information each doctor shares on HealthTap.

“If you want to choose a movie or a pizza shop, there’s a world of sites and reviews to help. But there’s nowhere trustworthy to go with a vital concern like your health,” HealthTap CEO Ron Gutman says in a company statement. “This is a transparent and meritocratic alternative to all the doctor reviews out there that are based on non-qualitative factors,” he adds.

There are plenty of physician and hospital rating sites online, including Vitals.com (which Inc. magazine named one of America’s 50 fastest-growing private companies this year), the long-established Healthgrades, RateMDs.com and, on a smaller scale, the esteemed, fiercely independent Consumer Reports. Consumer opinion forums like Yelp do rate doctors, though that site seems to be purely subjective.

What still eludes the healthcare industry is an objective rating system based on patient outcomes and other safety factors, however.

HealthTap has been a darling of the investment community, racking up sizeable cash infusions of $11.5 million from a group including ex-Google CEO Eric Schmidt and $2.5 million from angel investors led by Mohr Davidow Ventures. It also has seen its physician community soar from 6,000 last December to more than 16,000 today.

However, it has been controversial among some in the patient-safety community, who have questioned whether it is risky to get specific medical advice from physicians who patients do not have a pre-existing relationship with.

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Mobile will be essential to meeting MU Stage 2, improving care coordination

By: Neil Versel | Nov 1, 2012        

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Neil_Versel_LargeWe’ve heard talk for years about patient engagement, but not a whole lot of real progress. Mobile technologies are about to change that, with a substantial boost from Stage 2 of the “meaningful use” EHR incentive program.

To meet Stage 2 requirements, starting in 2014 (or the second year after initially getting to Stage 1),  providers must share patient records with affiliated hospitals and physicians for 65 percent of patient transitions and referrals they handle. This must include 10 percent of transitions outside their organizations to providers using an EHR system from a different vendor.

Also, hospitals and physician practices alike must give 50 percent of their patients the ability to view and download their own medical records through online portals, up from 10 percent in Stage 1. And, perhaps most significantly, 5 percent of patients actually have to log in to those portals for doctors and healthcare organizations to achieve meaningful use.

The 5 percent threshold doesn’t sound like much, but I’ve recently concluded that it truly is a Big Deal. For the first time, EHR adoption isn’t completely in the hands of the provider, and that was on the minds of a lot of IT people at the recent College of Healthcare Information Management Executives Fall CIO Forum.

“We have to be very creative in doing this,” Pam McNutt, senior vice president and CIO of Methodist Health System in Dallas said at the meeting.

“We’re trying to figure out what our strategy is,” added Gary Paxson, CIO of White River Health System in rural Batesville, Ark.

Meanwhile, a potentially groundbreaking report from the esteemed Lucian Leape Institute of the National Patient Safety Foundation is calling for healthcare organizations to pick up the pace when it comes to coordinating and integrating patient care.

“Most failures of coordination occur during care transitions, when there is a failure to transfer key pieces of information during handover and to ensure the completion of essential tasks of care,” the report said. “Examples include failure to transfer the results of medical tests and even the medical record as a whole, specialists receiving little or no information from referring primary care providers, and inadequate or missing discharge summaries.”

The paper didn’t explicitly say so, but read between the lines and know that technology is going to have to support  care integration. In fact, that’s exactly what one of the authors, former Kaiser Permanente CEO Dr. David Lawrence, told me last week. “You almost cannot do complex medical care without that kind of connectivity” called for in Stage 2, Lawrence said.

And it looks like vendors are taking notice.

Just this week, Buffalo, N.Y.-based Smart Sign Out released an updated version of its iPad app that automates patient handoffs to ensure that essential data gets transferred between all members of each patient’s care team. It also lets clinicians enter orders and instructions and share with colleagues.

At CHIME, Albert Oriol, VP and CIO of Rady Children’s Hospital in San Diego, showed me how physicians use the Epic Haiku iPhone app to access the hospital’s EHR remotely to view clinical summaries, test results and communicate with patients and other clinicians. Oriol said Rady has even connected the mobile system to San Diego County’s immunization registry, an important feature for any pediatric hospital.

Just a few weeks earlier, former federal CTO Aneesh Chopra gave a shout-out to Humetrix’s iBlueButton, a suite of consumer iPhone and iPad apps that allows doctors and patients to “push” health data securely between their mobile devices during office visits.

I’m still not completely sold on the idea of patient-controlled personal health records doing a lot for interoperability, but, as McNutt said, meeting the Stage 2 standards is going to take some creativity. You have to give iBlueButton and some of these other app developers points for being creative.

Zephyr, MGH to trial wireless monitoring in childbirth

By: Neil Versel | Nov 1, 2012        

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ZephyrLife Android App

ZephyrLife's Android App

Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston will conduct a clinical trial of wearable health monitoring devices from Zephyr Technology to monitor pregnant women as they give birth, then quickly roll the system out to a hospital in Uganda in an effort to stem high infant mortality.

Mass General’s Center for Global Health is testing Annapolis, Md.-based Zephyr’s BioHarness wireless vitals sensor and ZephyrLife monitoring system in Boston for 30 to 60 days before deploying the technology abroad, according to Paul Costello, Zephyr’s VP of sales. ZephryLife measures movement, respiratory rate, heart rhythm and other vital signs to help health workers identify conditions such as arrhythmia, pressure ulcers and potential falls early.

The company previewed ZephyrLife  at  the Partners HealthCare Connected Health Symposium in Boston last week. Mass General is part of Harvard-affiliated Partners. “Small devices the size of a silver dollar will communicate to a central system,” Costello explained to MobiHealthNews this week.

Zephyr and the Center for Global Health are moving to get the system over to Uganda as quickly as possible because of the dire conditions associated with childbirth there, according to Costello. He says that maternity wards and other birthing centers typically have just one caregiver — rarely a physician or even a nurse — for 50 to 60 women at a time, and 14 babies and one mother die every day. “I mean, the numbers are appalling,” Costello says.

The BioHarness and ZephryLife combination will help the overwhelmed caregivers better prioritize their patients and allocate their scarce resources more efficiently. During both the trial in Boston and the implementation in Uganda, Mass General researchers will work with Zephyr to design computer algorithms to detect and manage patient risk.

Eventually, clinicians in Boston will be able to provide remote care by telemedicine, Costello adds. “This could be a continuous monitoring program,” he says.

Zephyr, in partnership with Under Armour and the University of Southern California’s Center for Body Computing, provides wearable BioHarness monitors to measure vitals of draft prospects at the NFL Scouting Combine each spring. The same technology measures stress and other physiological conditions in firefighters, soldiers and NASA astronauts.

The company also has been working with Flagstaff Medical Center in Arizona to help the hospital reduce readmissions for patients with congestive heart failure.

BioHarness won FDA 510(k) clearance in 2010.

Consumer-facing mobile health’s raison d’etre?

By: Brian Dolan | Nov 1, 2012        

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Brian Dolan, Editor, MobiHealthNewsFeedback loops. That’s the focus that some of the highest profile consumer health startups have taken in recent years. Making scales smarter by pairing them with smartphone apps, using smartphone camera’s to track eating habits or to measure vital signs, pairing wireless-enabled pedometers with smarter software, all hope to create tighter and more effective feedback loops with an eye on health behavior change.

So far this new crop of companies has charted little success, but it’s early. Some behavior change startups have already pushed their experiments to a breaking point and run out of money. Timing is key too, of course, and many are just now starting out.

In recent weeks MobiHealthNews put together a special report about Healthy Feedback Loops. It serves as a high level primer full of examples that illustrate where much of the consumer-facing mobile health experiments are today. Health Feedback Loops is a complimentary download — get your copy right here.

West Health invests $4.25M in Kinect-powered rehab startup

By: Brian Dolan | Oct 31, 2012        

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Reflexion HealthThe West Health Investment Fund, which is a part of the West Health Institute, announced a $4.25 million investment into Reflexion Health, a startup that recently spun out of the institute. Reflexion plans to offer a physical therapy digital health program that leverages Microsoft Kinect for Windows. The West Health Institute developed the software and Reflexion is licensing it.

Like the first startup to spin out of West, Sense4Baby, Reflexion won’t be going too far — physically, anyway — it is still based onsite at the institute’s La Jolla, California headquarters since it is a part of West’s recently announced incubator.

Reflexion’s motion tracking system, called Rehabilitation Measurement Tool (RMT), uses a personal computer running Kinect to provide interactive feedback and educational materials based on the patient’s progress with their physical therapy. The aim is to help physical therapists and physicians to more easily track a patient’s rehab progress but the longterm goal is to improve patient adherence to a prescribed PT program, too.

“Reflexion Health is demonstrating that engaging medical software can become a powerful tool for clinicians to help patients, just like prescription drugs or traditional medical devices,” Spencer Hutchins, co-founder and CEO of Reflexion Health stated in the announcement. “This substantial investment will help Reflexion Health build its world-class team, accelerate product development and conduct clinical trials with the system.”

Hutchins previously worked at The West Health Institute and prior to that served on the healthcare team at the FCC that helped draft a healthcare chapter of its National Broadband Plan. His FCC colleagues Dr. Mohit Kaushal and Kerry McDermott also joined the West Health Institute not too long after the publication of the FCC’s National Broadband Plan in 2010. Kaushal now heads the West Health Investment Fund and McDermott is a senior director of policy at the West Health Policy Center in Washington DC. In recent weeks the FCC has announced plans to rehire healthcare talent to help it better navigate digital health.

More on Reflexion in this video.

Esther Dyson, Prostor Capital inject $2M into Russia health startup

By: Brian Dolan | Oct 31, 2012        

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004_esther_dysonMoscow, Russia-based startup VitaPortal, which spun out of Moscow’s Fastlane Ventures incubator last year, announced $2 million in its first round of funding. Prostor Capital led the round and noted angel investor Esther Dyson also contributed.

When VitaPortal first launched last year it aspired to be a Russian version of WebMD that enabled people in Russia to quickly find reliable health information that had been reviewed by a physician. Since its launch the startup has branched out and has begun offering 30 personalized online health management apps and it is developing a physician and hospital ranking system. It aims to use the new funds to help build out those two product lines. According to VitaPortal, some 1 million people have used its health tools over the past six months.

When VitaPortal launched last year a report over at East-West Digital News pegged Fastlane Ventures initial investment in the startup at about $1 million.

“There’s so much that people can do themselves to stay or get healthy… but they don’t know,” Dyson stated in the company’s announcement. “With VitaPortal, we hope to give them the knowledge and the motivation to live healthier lives, both with content and with apps that help them get meaning from data about their own health and activities.”

Back in 2010 Dyson also helped to launch a Russian version of Text4Baby in that country. She’s also been very active as an angel investor for digital health startups in the US.

Last December HealthRally announced $400,000 in funding from a group of angel investors that included Dyson. HealthRally combines financial incentives and social networking by creating a fundraising crowd platform similar to the website Kickstarter, which enables micro-investments for various causes and projects. Last March Dyson contributed to a $2.35 million round of funding for patient-physician Q&A platform HealthTap. Dyson also backed Contagion Health, which merged with Health Month to become Habit Labs, but the team disbanded and shed its assets earlier this year.