mHealth “cyberchondria” is a small price to pay

By: Neil Versel | Mar 30, 2011        

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Neil VerselA special report on “Innovations in Health Care” that appeared in the Wall Street Journal on Monday included a feature on mobile devices.

Most of what the Journal reported shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone who reads MobiHealthNews: Dr. Eric Topol, chief academic officer at Scripps Health in San Diego, thinks the pocket ultrasound is ending the 200-year reign of the stethoscope. Telemedicine monitoring technology has found its way on board ambulances. The Mobile MIM system, recently cleared by the Food and Drug Administration as a diagnostic radiology device, and AirStrip OB, which gained 510(k) clearance in 2009, are among the many products taking advantage of the iPhone’s impressive combination of power and portability. And telecom giant AT&T is working on “smart slippers” to help prevent falls by the elderly by warning caregivers of changes in the wearer’s gait.

The story is worth reading if for nothing else than Topol’s warning about one drawback of mobile and wireless health opening up so much information to physicians and patients: “We could create a whole culture of cyberchondriacs,” he cautioned.

Ah, cyberchondriacs. Apparently first identified in the mid-1990s, cyberchondriacs are people who, after reading about a medical condition online, believe they exhibit enough symptoms to be worried. The rise of WebMD and its automated symptom checker at the end of the 20th Century brought on the first wave of cyberchondriacs.

I really thought the phenomenon had waned as people started to show a healthier dose of skepticism about things they read on the Internet. But it seemingly came back with a vengeance. In December 2007, CNN medical correspondent Elizabeth Cohen asked, “Are you a cyberchondriac”? A year later, the term “cyberchondriac” was a finalist for Webster’s New World Dictionary Word of the Year. It’s also found its way as recently as 2009 into that barometer of buzz, Urban Dictionary. (Can I say “buzzrometer”? That’s just as made-up as cyberchondriac.)

All this has led me to believe that the term has as much staying power as, well, a chronic disease. You know, the same kinds of conditions that so many m-health apps are designed to track and treat.

Todd Park, the first-ever CTO of the Department of Health and Human Services, often speaks of “data liberación through innovative apps. If mobile developers succeed in freeing all the information trapped in healthcare databases—and in our bodies—then they may unleash another wave of cyberchondria. But they also could open up avenues to better health, lower-cost care and potentially some major breakthroughs in medicine.

Wouldn’t that be worth the trouble?

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Wellness device maker Basis scoops up $9M

By: Brian Dolan | Mar 29, 2011        

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Basis BandSan Francisco-based health and wellness startup, Basis just closed $9 million in a first round of funding led by Norwest Venture Partners and Doll Capital Management, according to a report at Venture Beat. Basis, previously known as PulseTracer, offers a wrist worn device called Basis Band that measures the wearer’s heart rate and other vital signs. Basis also plans to allow third party developers to build apps that work with the device.

While Basis Band is available for pre-order from the company’s website at $199, the company has yet to announce when the device will first ship.

According to Venture Beat, the company has also hired a “superstar CEO,” a position currently held by co-founder Nadeem Kassam.

Basis wrote on its blog that the funding will help speed up delivery of the product to those already on the preorder wait list. The deal also brings two new advisors to the company: Tim Chang from Norwest Venture Partners and Jason Krikorian from DCM, Basis wrote.

We also noted that former Engineering Program Manager at Google Health, Julie Wilner is Director of Product at Basis. She’s held the position since leaving Google Health last August.

Around that same time Basis COO Bharat Vasan demonstrated the company’s device, then called Pulse Tracer, at a Quantified Self event. The 11 minute video can be viewed here.

Has Epocrates’ success turned investors on to mobile health?

By: Brian Dolan | Mar 28, 2011        

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EpocratesA report in the Venture Capital Journal thinks so.

Last month Epocrates, which offers one of the most popular medical apps for healthcare professionals, raised about $86 million in an initial public offering. Its stock rose 38 percent in its first day of trading. The success of Epocrates and its large user base of US healthcare professionals — 45 percent of all practicing physicians in the country use Epocrates’ products — has helped convince investors that mobile apps for the healthcare field may be “the next big investment trend,” according to a report in the Venture Capital Journal (VCJ).

“The stars are beginning to align in favor of new companies” Bijan Salehizadeh, general partner at Highland Capital Partners, told VCJ. “It is an extremely robust time for mobile health from a business perspective.”

Salehizadeh told the magazine that healthcare IT for mobile devices is one of the fastest growing categories in venture investing today.

We noticed a slight uptick in investments during 2010 with investors pumping a total of $233 million into companies working in mobile health. That figure included announced deals and those disclosed to the SEC — there are likely many more undisclosed deals, too. In 2009 we tracked 15 investment deals. In 2011 we have already tracked more than $60 million in funding announcements this quarter.

Here’s a list of related coverage for investment trends and announcements in mobile health:

Epocrates founders raise $10.8 million for Doximity
Verizon invests in BL Healthcare’s $2 million venture round
Diabetes mobile health company snags $48 million from investors
Massive Health scoops up $2.25 million to build apps that appreciate patients
Investors pumped $233M into mobile health in 2010
The 15 wireless health VC deals of 2009
Harvard students to launch mHealth incubator
iPhone Exec: Leaving to invest in wireless, medicine start-ups

For more from the VCJ article check out this peHub post (VCJ is subscription only)

Dr. Soon-Shiong’s vision for mobile health unclear

By: Brian Dolan | Mar 24, 2011        

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Brian Dolan, Editor, MobiHealthNewsDr. Patrick Soon-Shiong goes by a number of titles: Chairman of the Chan Soon-Shiong Family Foundation, chairman and CEO of the Institute for Advanced Health, Chairman and CEO of the Healthcare Transformation Institute, founder of the National Coalition for Health Integration, leader of the All About Advanced Health project, and executive chairman of the UCLA Wireless Health Institute.

Also: 4.5 percent owner of the LA Lakers basketball team.

Because of a basketball injury, Soon-Shiong was not able to present his keynote in-person at the CTIA Wireless 2011 in Orlando, Florida this week, but he did manage to remotely video link in and give a 20 minute talk that was both expansive and disparate. Perhaps telling of the myriad and as yet unconnected activities underfoot at the various organizations that he leads.

While I decided to attend CTIA to get a better understanding of Soon-Shiong’s vision and plans for mobile health (he recently acquired the high-profile Cambridge-based startup Vitality, which created the GlowCap), I left his presentation more confused than informed.

Event organizers explained Soon-Shiong’s presentation in a press release following his remarks: “He set out his vision of how today’s wireless technologies can now help bring about a revolution in healthcare, realizing the dream of personalized medicine by connecting with what he calls the ‘human signal engine’— the wide array of information now available from genomics and proteomics, as well as more traditional tests and scans, and the data the body receives through the senses.”

The second half of Soon-Shiong’s talk focused on wireless tools that aided the senses of the impaired, particularly vision and hearing. The big reveal from Soon-Shiong’s presentation was that he has been working with Ipplex’s iVisit, a company that has developed sophisticated visual recognition software that enables the visually impaired to “see” the world around them through their camera phones. The impressive demo of iVisit’s LookTel app showed users’ phones correctly identifying $1, $5, $100 bills, various brands of boxed foods, and more.

I first wrote about LookTel two years ago back when the app was called SeeScan. LookTel only recently launched commercially via the iTunes AppStore for iPhones earlier this month. Toward the end of Soon-Shiong’s talk, iVisit CEO Orang Dialameh went on-stage to provide a live demo of the LookTel app. (An aside: Interestingly, Dialmeh’s company received about $4.2 million in funding this past January — that’s about how much Soon-Shiong invested in GlowCap-maker Vitality before he acquired it.)

Soon-Shiong’s vision for mobile health was actually much more involved than the summary statement provided by show organizers. Much more than just “seeing eye phones,” too. Soon-Shiong’s talk covered nearly every aspect of mobile health and the wider health reform discussion. As the names of the organizations he leads imply, his mission is nothing short of advancing, transforming, and integrating health.

He wants to take on the “system.”

While Soon-Shiong’s path ahead still appears unclear to this CTIA attendee, I am more convinced that Soon-Shiong’s interest in mobile health extends well beyond connect pill boxes. With a personal fortune of reportedly more than $7 billion, mark these words: Soon-Shiong’s impact on mobile health has only just begun.

mHealth companies: The most innovative in health care?

By: Brian Dolan | Mar 24, 2011        

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GE Healthcare Vscan ultra-mobile ultrasound deviceMobile health companies dominated Fast Company’s list of the 10 Most Innovative Companies in Health Care for 2011. At least five of the top 10 companies have strong mobile components.

Epocrates, which went public recently, topped the magazine’s list of most innovative companies “for creating software that gives doctors and nurses instant information on drug-to-drug interactions, treatment recommendations, and more on their mobile devices or laptops.” The magazine also noted Epocrates’ EHR plans.

Voxiva, which powers the much publicized Text4Baby service, landed as the third most innovative company on the magazine’s list “for developing mobile apps that coach users through everything from smoking cessation to diabetes management.”

GE Healthcare took the seventh spot on the list “for promising to revolutionize diagnosis with the Vscan, a mobile, pocket-size ultrasound machine the size of an iPod, connected to short wand.” Certainly mobile but not yet wireless connected. While the wireless connectivity isn’t embedded in the Vscan yet, I’m willing to place my bet against anyone’s who thinks it will remain unconnected for too much longer.

PharmaSecure took the eighth spot “for coming up with cost-effective protection against counterfeit drugs, which are especially prevalent in developing nations.” The company’s use of text messages to verify drug authenticity makes it a true mobile health startup. Sproxil is a close competitor to PharmaSecure.

NeuroVigil ranked ninth according to Fast Company as one of the top 10 most innovative companies in healthcare. The magazine recognized the startup “for building a database of brainwave activity to help researchers recognize disease patterns in people affected by neural or nervous system maladies.” As we have previously reported, NeuroVigil analyzes its users’ EEGs and aims to detect early signs of cognitive disorders like Parkinson’s.

All in all a great list from Fast Company — we agree with the magazine’s astute editors that mobile health companies should dominate a list of most innovative companies in healthcare today. Read the entire list here.

Alzheimer’s Association offers on demand tracking

By: Brian Dolan | Mar 23, 2011        

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gps-bgThe Alzheimer’s Association announced a number of changes to its Comfort Zone tracking service at the CTIA Wireless 2011 event in Orlando, Florida. The newest release of the product, called Comfort Zone Check-In helps people with Alzheimer’s to stay safe and independent while giving caregivers the tools they need to remotely monitor those in their care. Omnilink Systems powers the offering.

The upgrades include the ability for caregivers to locate people with Alzheimer’s as long as they have a Sprint phone that has an active service plan.The new service upgrades also allow users to schedule once daily location requests that send notifications via text message or email. Caregivers can also monitor several different users’ devices using a single account.

Perhaps the most dramatic and important change is the new pricing option: Users can opt for a low priced, on-demand only rate plan to track individuals only when a caregiver chooses instead of on a continuous schedule.

“Omnilink’s partnership with the Alzheimer’s Association for Comfort Zone first demonstrated how we can apply our location-based services expertise to help consumers monitor the people and things that matter most in their lives,” Aaron Charlesworth, Vice President of Marketing and Product, Omnilink stated in the press release. “It’s very exciting to have the opportunity to extend this unique product to provide a greater continuum of services as a person’s disease progresses and their safety needs change.”

Backgrounder: Here’s a round-up of Alzheimer’s-related mobile health services we put together in September 2009: Article.

For more on Comfort Zone, read the Omnilink press release after the jump. Keep reading>>