2018: 5 million disposable, mobile medical sensors

By: Jonah Comstock | May 3, 2013        

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BodyMedia PatchAlthough disposable body-worn wireless medical sensors have barely begun to see usage in healthcare, research firm ABI is predicting they will rise to prominence very quickly. By 2018, ABI analysts say, disposable Medical Body Area Network (MBAN) sensor shipments will hit 5 million. Previously, ABI reported that 160 million wireless wearable health devices, of which disposable sensors are a sub-category, would ship in 2017.

“There’ve been a number of companies focused on or looking at the potential of this market,” ABI analyst Jonathan Collins told MobiHealthNews. “And we’re increasingly seeing it as more viable.”

Late last year, the FCC approved a specialized spectrum for MBAN devices. As ABI notes and MobiHealthNews reported at the time, GE Healthcare and Philips both pushed for the creation of that spectrum. Although not all MBAN sensors are disposable, Collins said the firm sees that as a key use case for the new spectrum.

“That foundation of having specialized spectrum set aside for monitoring in US healthcare locations, the way that workflow works in professional healthcare and the spectrum registration, shows there is that interest,” said Collins. “That combined with the way disposable fits in with the way healthcare tends to operate is providing a fertile ground for the development of these technologies.”

The firm said that while Bluetooth Smart will continue to be the primary mode of connectivity for wearable sensors in general, disposable sensors will instead use a mix of Near Field Communications (NFC) and proprietary technology. NFC is a low cost and standardized option, but proprietary methods could allow for more complete or efficient data collection. In addition, proprietary methods can be cheaper and more quickly implemented, Collins said.

Disposable sensors can be attached to the skin and worn continuously, allowing doctors an unprecedented picture of a patients’ health over a long period of time. BodyMedia was set to release a disposable patch called the Vue Patch some time this year. Developed in conjunction with Avery Dennison and licensed from Proteus Digital Health, the patch can track calorie burn, steps taken, activity levels, sleep patterns and more and will be used in evaluations for weight management.

A British company, Toumaz, which has a US venture backed by Nant Health’s Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong, has already tested its SensiumVitals “digital plaster” in multiple hospitals. The disposable sensor continuously monitors heart rate, respiratory rate and body temperature of patients in general wards. It received FDA clearance in 2011.

Several companies use disposable thermometers to track fertility as well, although the sensors aren’t actually disposable: a reusable sensor fits into a disposable peel-and-stick patch.

Collin’s told MobiHealthNews ABI’s projection refers to fully disposable sensors with wireless connectivity embedded in them. He also said the firm is specifically focused on the hospital market, as opposed to direct-to-consumer, although that might include disposable patches given to patients at the hospital that they can wear home.

Check out our Q1 2013 Report over at our research store.

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Michael J. Fox Foundation takes first step toward crowdsourced research

By: Jonah Comstock | May 2, 2013        

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A data visualization of the Michael J. Fox Foundation's Parkinson's data from LIONSolver.

A data visualization of the Michael J. Fox Foundation's Parkinson's data from LIONSolver.

The Michael J. Fox Foundation (MJFF) has recently begun to explore how data sourced from mobile phones and analyzed with machine learning algorithms can help improve research into Parkinson’s. The organization held the Parkinson’s Data Challenge, where teams competed for a $10,000 prize with their approaches to analyzing a dataset collected from Parkinson’s patients.

“Last year, we were approached by [entrepreneur] Daniel Vannoni. He had conducted this project with 16 individuals — nine patients, seven control, and for 8 weeks, 4-5 hours a day, these individuals carried a smartphone. The smartphone had seven sensors that were collecting data for that period,” said Laxmi Wordham, Chief Digital Officer of the MJFF. She said that Vannoni, a Cambridge-based entrepreneur who heads up Gecko Ventures, did the study in the hopes of building a commercial app for managing Parkinson’s, but when the project fell through, he elected to donate the data to the Foundation, whom he had worked with previously as a fundraiser.

“We don’t have a statistician on staff, and we thought there was something behind this data that we wanted to pursue,” Wordham said. “So we thought about making this a challenge. One objective was to test the prize/challenge model. Objective two was, could we learn something from data collected through mobile technology? Was there a ‘there’ there that we could continue to pursue? And three, could we reach a statistical analysis base of people who weren’t involved in Parkinson’s?”

The data was collected in the background by the phones and included movement data from the built-in accelerometer, data about the user’s tone of voice, how much the phone was turned on and used, data from the built-in compass and GPS, and an ambient light sensor. One of the earliest symptoms of Parkinson’s is tremors, which could be detected either from voice or movement.

In fact, a number of mobile health innovators have been working to detect and analyze Parkinson’s symptoms. UCLA engineers did a clinical trial that proved the effectiveness of the iPhone’s built-in-accelerometer back in 2010. More recently, Max Little’s team at the Parkinson’s Voice Initiative claimed to be able to detect Parkinson’s with 99 percent accuracy from voice analysis over the phone.

The teams in the MJFF competition were challenged to develop a model that could use the data to identify the Parkinson’s patients from the control group and identify what stage of the disease users were in. But the challenge was also open-ended for teams to do more with the data. Keep reading>>

Doximity’s new iPad app and the “poor man’s HIE”

By: Jonah Comstock | May 2, 2013        

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DoximityDoximity, the medical communications platform headed up by Epocrates co-founder Jeff Tangney, has announced its first tablet app, an iPad product that offers various improvements to its existing iPhone and Android offerings that take advantage of the larger screen real estate. The company also announced that it now has 160,000 physician users.

“We’ve always been a mobile first company. We started with an iPhone app, then an Android app, and then a website,” Tangney told MobiHealthNews. “But doctors have always used the iPhone app on the iPad. The key thing was to add the ability for doctors to sign, make notes, and share notes on faxes on their iPads. That takes a little while to do, but now we have it and it looks great. It really is the doctor’s new electronic clipboard.”

Doximity has always competed with doctors’ use of fax machines to correspond with one another and with pharmacies. With the iPad app, each doctor will get their own fax number, allowing them to receive faxes directly on their iPad. On the tablet’s large screen, doctors can notate and sign the faxes, CC them to emails and other faxes, and in many cases send them right back to their sender, allowing quick turnaround for much of a physician’s paperwork. And unlike consumer products that offer electronic faxing, Doximity’s process is all HIPAA-compliant.

In addition, other features of Doximity’s app are enhanced in the context of the new form factor.

“It is the same functionality we had on the iPhone, just bigger and reformatted,” Tangney said. “We didn’t just do a straight port, we went through and added a few fun things. Like when I do a search for cardiologists in my area, before we would just show you a list, but now we’ll show you a map with their faces as pins on the map.”

A core feature of Doximity is a social reader function that lets doctors share and comment on academic research. Tangney said that the new form factor is ideal for reading journal articles.

“Just like a lot of people use Flipboard as their magazine e-reader, our DocNews, which filters through all the news that a doctor’s colleagues are reading, I can flip through more like a magazine experience,” he said.

Doximity’s 160,000 physicians users make up more than 20 percent of the physicians in the United States, according to Tangney. The company hit 50,000 physician members in March 2012, and 100,000 in October 2012, according to their press release. Tangney compared Doximity’s growth to the early days of Epocrates, his former company.

“I can say the growth at Doximity has been multiple times the growth we had back then at Epocrates,” he said. “At Epocrates we kind of stalled at 100,000 users, because there was just no network effect to it. In the last five years, Epocrates has had a lot of growth. But here we have the effect that the value of the product to the 100,000th doctor is a lot greater than it was to the 10,000th doctor. There’s a huge first mover advantage for being the place where most other people you want to talk with are.”

Tangney said the company wasn’t sharing how engaged the 160,000 doctors are with the platform other than it was “more than LinkedIn, less than Facebook.” He said Doximity wants to be an available tool for doctors, but doesn’t necessarily need them to use the platform as voraciously as the average Facebook user.

“We haven’t been trying to goose engagement, but we see pretty decent engagement. A decent chunk is the journal club, and the other is just secure messages. Some are patient-related, but some are just reconnecting with friends from your residency. I think that’s because we offer HIPAA compliance and an easier way to do some of the day to day interaction.”

Tangney declined to comment on whether an Android tablet app was coming. He said a next step for the company is EHR interoperability, but doctors are already finding workarounds.

“We don’t have a lot of interfaces built to EHRs yet. We’re working on some. I have seen some physicians who will take a screenshot of their EHRs, and attach that message through a secure message on Doximity. That becomes a poor man’s HIE,” he said. “The billion dollar question is ‘Will we get interoperability in healthcare?’ The answer is ‘We’re not there yet.'”

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Virtual patient advocate shows promise in reducing risky pregnancies

By: Neil Versel | May 2, 2013        

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Gabby AvatarYoung, low-income, minority women respond favorably to a “virtual patient advocate” that talks to them in plain English in a conversational, non-confrontational manner about birth control and other “preconception planning” issues, preliminary testing of the technology shows. Some even prefer the avatar to an actual physician, according to an article in the American Journal of Health Promotion.

The study, conducted at Boston Medical Center using technology developed at nearby Northeastern University, asked 24 African-American women between the ages of 15 and 25 to interact with a virtual character named Gabby to screen them for risks of unintended and dangerous pregnancies. Questions address issues as diverse as family planning, whether people have diabetes or other medical conditions that could affect the risk of birth defects, exposure to teratogens – substances that can cause developmental disorders – and preventive measures sexually active women can take.

Minority and low-income communities tend to have higher incidences of unplanned pregnancies and of maternal and infant mortality, the researchers say, citing earlier studies.

The Gabby system, created by Timothy Bickmore, a computer science professor at Northeastern, speaks in simple, conversational language. Users respond by clicking buttons on the screen specific to each question, and Gabby provides further dialog based on each response. “She’ll talk to you as long as you want,” lead author Dr. Paula Gardiner, a family physician at Boston Medical Center and a faculty member at Boston University School of Medicine, explains.

Gabby also educates users about unhealthy behavior and helps women create to-do lists for mitigating risks through lifestyle changes. “She’s helping you set goals,” Gardiner says.

“She lets you set the goals and she reinforces the goal settings,” Gardiner continues. “In that sense, she’s like a coach.” Keep reading>>

Five percent of broadband households have digital fitness devices

By: Brian Dolan | May 2, 2013        

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Parks Associates Health AppsAccording to a recent survey conducted by Parks Associates in March, about 5 percent of households with broadband internet have at least one digital fitness device — like a Fitbit, Jawbone UP, or BodyMedia FIT Armband. The survey, called Digitally Fit: Healthy Living and Connected Devices, polled about 10,000 broadband-enabled households.

The survey found that memory improvement mobile apps or online services were the most widely adopted type of app or service among those surveyed, followed by weight loss, diet and nutrition, and exercise apps or online services.

A Parks report from last year, called Health Entertainment 2012, found that 29 percent of consumers with health problems would try out an easy-t0-use device to track their health conditions and 27 percent said they were interested in a personalized plan to help guide them through their care regimen. That same report found that about a third of people who said they used fitness apps (or said they’d potentially like to use them) considered the integration of fitness data with nutritional data as a “must have” feature of an app.

Parks predicts that more than 32 million US consumers will actively track their health and fitness online or via mobile devices by 2016, up from about 15 million in 2011. Online and mobile wellness service adoption will also increase from 14 million users in 2011 to 29 million by 2016, according to Parks. Sales of fitness tracking devices — both stationary and wearable — will ramp from $337 million in 2011 to more than $2.4 billion by 2016. The firm estimates that unit sales of wearable fitness tracking devices will almost hit 14 million by 2016, up from just 1.5 million sales in 2011.

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The MobiHealthNews Podcast: Q1 in Review

By: Brian Dolan | May 2, 2013        

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Podcast imageIn this past month’s MobiHealthNews podcast, Jonah Comstock and I reviewed some of the most important mobile and digital health stories and trends that emerged during the first quarter of the year. This short (7-minute) podcast riffs off our recently released Mobile Health Q1 2013 State of the Industry Report, which we just published yesterday morning.

We’ll be back later in May with our podcast dedicated to fitness apps and devices, which should be particularly interesting considering the recent acquisition of longtime wearable health sensor company BodyMedia by cash-flush Jawbone.

Our April podcast is available for download or streaming over at Hipcast now (check it out here!) and over at iTunes (here’s the link).