Mayo Clinic, Geoff Clapp launch mobile health startup, Better

By: Brian Dolan | Apr 18, 2013        

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Better health appHealth Hero co-founder and Rock Health mentor Geoffrey Clapp announced this week the launch of his new startup, Better, which is backed by The Mayo Clinic and The Social+Capital Fund, according to the demo he gave onstage at the Wall Street Journal’s D:Mobile event in New York City. (Social+Capital has also funded Asthmapolis, Simplee, and Glooko.)

Clapp described Better as “the best way for you to get healthcare wherever you are directly on your mobile device.” He also said that while there have been promising developments with healthcare legislation, new medical sensors, and big data, “there isn’t a great mobile experience for healthcare yet” and that’s what Better aims to bring.

The user experience of the Better app begins with “Siri for healthcare”, Clapp said. The app asks: “What can we help you with?” (in writing) and the user types in their question or issue. Arguably, the core offering of the app is a symptom navigator, similar to iTriage. Better, however, is stocked with medical content from the Mayo Clinic. If a user enters certain symptoms, Better might suggest a user consider seeking emergency care or calling their physician, but for those users who have a paid subscription to Better, the app can connect them — when appropriate — with a lifestyle coach, registered nurse, or physician at the Mayo Clinic.

At the D:Life conference Clapp showed how a user with abdominal pains can use the symptom navigator to get to a potential cause of celiac disease and connect to a registered nurse at the Mayo Clinic via a phone call. The RN, named Linda, knew that Clapp had just used the symptom navigator and that it had suggested celiac as a potential cause. After a two-minute call she offered him a few tips for over the counter meds, emailed some home remedies, and set up an appointment for him at a lab by him near Stanford University.

When pushed, Clapp shared the general price points for the paid services that Better plans to offer. Users who sign up for a monthly plan that includes access to a lifestyle coach will pay about $150 a month. Access to a nurse scales up to about $400 a month, Clapp said, while real-time access to a doctor will end up running between $400 and $1,000. There’s also a very high end option that includes flying out what Clapp called a “healthcare SEAL team” to wherever the user was to pick them up and fly them back to the Mayo Clinic. Clapp said this “black card” option will cost in the thousands of dollars per month.

Clapp told attendees at D:Live that the Better app and services are set to launch at the end of the summer and it seemed clear that prices were not yet finalized.

Besides the curated content, symptom navigator, and premium telephone consultation services, Better also integrates with various fitness tracking devices. While Clapp didn’t specifically name which devices his app would pull data from, he was wearing both a Basis Band and (what appeared to be) a Jawbone UP on either wrist and did reference both of them during the demo. Basis might be providing heart rate data, while the other wrist-worn device was for tracking steps, he said.

Following his demo on-stage, Clapp wrote a post on his personal blog about Better’s launch. An interesting passage was this explanation for why the business model is (initially, anyway) focused on direct-to-consumer:

“I believe empowering consumers to be engaged in their health starts with choice. Mobile and consumer choice has changed every market, and healthcare is not an exception to this force,” Clapp wrote. “We will work to drive healthcare prices down and to expand options to as much of the population as we can. This starts by providing choice, and exceeding expectations of what “quality care” really means. At Better we’ve already taken services you simply can’t get today, made many of them free, and cut the cost of most of them by 30% or more. We will also offer more premium services at a higher price point, and if you want a jet to come pick you up in a foreign country and fly you back to the best care in the world (yes, we offer this), it costs money and is not for everyone. But the very engine of a market economy is empowering customers and growing a market is giving them the choice, and we’re very sure this will have a net-positive effect on the market costs, overall.”

The whole post is worth a read for more perspective on Better. There’s also a video of Clapp’s demo over WSJ here.


CDC proposes smartphone surveys for quicker reads on public health

By: Brian Dolan | Apr 18, 2013        

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CDC Mobile AppsThe National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion (NCCDPHP) at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has proposed a project that would use smartphones to collect information on health behaviors, especially with an eye on smoking habits and cessation. The project, which was outlined in the Federal Register this week, is for a feasibility study set to last one year to determine whether mobile-friendly websites targeting smartphone users and text message-based questionnaires for other mobile users would help it collect public health data faster.

“New mobile communications technologies provide a unique opportunity for innovation in public health surveillance,” the CDC writes in the Register. “Text messaging and smartphone Web access are immediate, accessible, and anonymous, a combination of features that could make smartphones ideal for the ongoing research, surveillance, and evaluation of risk behaviors and health conditions, as well as targeted dissemination of information.”

The groups aim to first send the surveys to US residents aged 18 to 65 nationwide with questions related to smoking habits and alcohol consumption. Following the survey, the smartphone users will be asked to participate via text message in the feasibility study, which includes a survey immediately following the first and then another one a week later. The texts will include links to the survey on a mobile-friendly site.

Some of those who participate in the initial outreach that are non-smartphone users will be asked to participate in another study, the text message pilot, which will conduct the surveys one question at a time via text.

The study aims to evaluate, among other things, the response bias of data collected from the smartphone users on the mobile site to those responses collected via text. The study could help the CDC to make a case for using smartphone surveys in other contexts or for other uses like diary studies to track activities or events, it wrote.

The CDC has recognized the potential for mobile health for many years:

“Mobile communications is absolutely going to revolutionize not just health communications, not just public health, but, I believe, health in general,” the CDC’s former Director of the National Center for Health Marketing Dr. Jay M. Bernhardt said in 2009. “We can put [health-related information] on television, on billboards, or your doctor can tell you… but one of the big problems with mass communications is that it’s hit or miss… [while] mobile technology is always within an arm’s reach.”

Kinsa starts with thermometer, works up to realtime health map

By: Jonah Comstock | Apr 17, 2013        

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kinsaThe most important thing about a thermometer isn’t that it takes your temperature. What’s important about a thermometer, according to Kinsa Health founder Inder Singh, is that it’s already the go-to device for home diagnosis of illness.

“The thermometer is the single most important device,” Singh told MobiHealthNews, “the first device any parent or doctor uses to confirm illness.”

The product Kinsa Health just launched on Indiegogo is a thermometer that connects to a smartphone via the headphone jack. By using the phone’s battery and electronics, the company claims it has been able to build an accurate digital thermometer with a low price point — possibly even cheaper than non-connected digital thermometers are today.

But the thermometer is only an entry point for a much more ambitious project. Kinsa Health’s plan is to have patients (and, especially, parents) who use the device also contribute to a realtime health map that tracks the spread of disease. The app will supplement the data it generates with public third party data, like data from the CDC, and data from private data partners.

“The idea is with just a few simple additional actions, you can track your child’s history, communicate it with a doctor and it’s with you at all time, on your phone,” he said. “It gets you engaged in a system that can send you push notifications when the flu’s going around your child’s school.”

In addition to the health map, the Kinsa app will be able to locate nearby urgent care facilities and eventually incorporate a one-touch nurse call button. The app will also support small private networks, like all the teachers in a particular first grade class.

Kinsa is not the first smartphone-connected thermometer. A handful of companies like Kindara, Ovuline and Temperature Concepts have developed smartphone-enabled thermometers to help couples conceive. As for thermometers for diagnosing fevers, at the end of last year Raiing received FDA clearance for a wireless thermometer which is yet to launch in the US.

Kinsa Health is hitting the scene with some impressive investors and team members. Singh himself comes from the Clinton Health Access Initiative, where he helped lower the price of drugs for malaria, AIDS and other diseases. Ed Park, COO of athenahealth is an investor and advisor for the company, which has also recieved seed funding from IA Ventures.

But Singh said the crowdfunding campaign is as much about raising buzz as raising money, since the realtime health map has more value the more users it has.

“It’s well and good that experts and entrepreneurs back us,” he said, “but what will make the difference is if people back us, if parents back us, if people who are really engaged in the system back us.”

StartUp Health, AARP partner to advise startups on seniors

By: Jonah Comstock | Apr 17, 2013        

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CaremergeStartUp Health has announced a new partnership with AARP as part of AARP’s Innovation@50+ program which began at the end of 2011.

AARP will sponsor a new track of StartUp Health research focused on digital health products and services for people 50 and older, as well as master classes for StartUp companies. AARP will sponsor StartUp Health’s quarterly reports.

StartUp Health spokesperson Nicole Kinsey told MobiHealthNews in an email that there are currently seven companies enrolled in the StartUp Health Academy focused specifically on the 50+ market, with several more whose products are applicable to that market. In addition, more than 200 companies in the greater StartUp Health network are focused on the aging population.

“We are thrilled to be able to work with StartUp Health to develop a world-class curriculum to educate and inspire more health tech entrepreneurs to focus on innovation for the aging population,” Jody Holtzman, Senior Vice President of Thought Leadership of AARP said in a statement. “Together, we will help focus a generation of innovators to think about developing solutions that will improve health and wellness for the 50+ community. Today, tens of millions of people in their 50s, 60s, 70s and 80s are leading longer, healthier, more productive lives. They’re beginning to wake up to this new longevity—and what it means in their lives.”

The company’s partnership with AARP may affect their selection of companies going forward, StartUp Health co-founder Unity Stoakes told MobiHealthNews in an email.

“We definitely intend to invite more companies into StartUp Health Academy who are focusing on developing solutions that will benefit our aging population,” he wrote. “Additionally, we will work to inspire and educate the entire ecosystem about opportunities that startups can focus on for this market so more businesses are addressing the current needs.”

“One of the things we focus on at StartUp Health is pairing the innovation happening in startups with the real market needs,” he continued. “We think the result will speed the cycles of innovation and bring better solutions for people who need them.”

AARP’s Innovation@50+ initiative isn’t just limiting its support to one accelerator. The group is also a sponsor of Rock Health’s CEO Summit next month.

We’ll be curious to see whether the AARP’s increasing partnerships in health accelerators will also encourage more boomers and seniors to become digital health entrepreneurs.

Orange-backed health startup combines avatars, home monitoring, speech recognition

By: Neil Versel | Apr 17, 2013        

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Sensely tablet appA start-up from Orange Silicon Valley, the San Francisco development center of France Telecom-Orange, is preparing to launch a platform that combines wireless home monitoring, augmented reality, speech controls and motion capture to help patients manage chronic diseases and prevent hospital readmissions.

The platform, called, uses gesture capture based on Microsoft’s Kinect as well as a Nuance Communications speech recognition engine to automate patient engagement and promote continuity of care. It also is meant to lessen the hassle of following up with physicians, a key factor in patients neglecting their health conditions.

“The problem isn’t that we don’t know what to do as patients,” Founder and CMO Dr. Ivana Schnur tells MobiHealthNews. The problem is keeping up a routine every day, Schnur explains. collects data from wireless home medical devices to collect data and lets patients interact with virtual clinicians in the form of avatars by standing in front of a computer or Internet-enabled TV hooked up to a Kinect sensor to detect patient movement and gestures. Users communicate with the avatar through speech recognition and natural language processing and the system follows established medical protocols and physician instructions to dispense care advice.

“You do not need the doctor for everything. You do not even need the nurse for everything,” Schnur says. “The avatar can say what it means when you don’t exercise or eat well,” she explains. For someone with diabetes, this means the risk of a dangerous spike in blood sugar, for example.

She says she hopes the technology fosters understanding for people newly diagnosed with chronic diseases about how they may need to change their lifestyles and habits.

According to Schnur, company tests have shown people can create emotional attachments with the avatars and may even be more open to sharing personal information with a virtual clinician. “You don’t feel as judged as you would with a person,” Schnur says.

Schnur expects the product to launch next month. will be targeting healthcare providers burdened with managing chronic diseases and looking to prevent readmissions.

PatientsLikeMe has 200K users, calls for new lexicon

By: Jonah Comstock | Apr 17, 2013        

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PatientsLikeMe Vice President for Advocacy Sally Okun spoke at TEDMED about the idea of building a “patient lexicon” to make it as easy for patients to talk about their conditions and compare notes as it is for doctors.

“As a pallative care nurse, much of my time was spent in the homes of patients. Sometimes it simply was about giving them the opportunity to say to me ‘Is this normal?’ ‘Do other people feel this?'” she said.

Okun said PatientsLikeMe has developed “a systematic curation process that matches patient vocabulary to clinical vocabulary.” When patients describe symptoms on the site, those symptoms are added to an ever-growing analytic database.

PatientsLikeMe began as an online community for ALS patients, but has evolved and expanded to connect patients dealing with many different diseases to track their conditions, therapies, and treatments, generating big data in the process that can inform research and the whole healthcare system. In a recent interview with Fortune, brothers and co-founders Ben and Jamie Heywood revealed that the site currently has 200,000 users in 1,500 disease communities.

“Three years ago the world saw us as just a social network for patients. Now we’re a viable clinical-research platform that has published 30 peer-reviewed research studies. We have a much broader population of early adopters, and we’re helping clinicians and researchers and patients to develop better and better tools to measure health,” Ben told Fortune.

As the platform has moved into its more general use case, its team has been in the spotlight quite a bit lately. In addition to Okun’s TED talk and the Fortune interview, co-founder Jamie Heywood was a keynote speaker at the Healthcare Experience Design (HXD) conference in Boston last month. In his talk, he stressed that patients on the platform don’t only track symptoms and treatments, but they also record quality of life.

“Healthcare should be a reduction of the severity of the condition and the reduction of the impact of that condition on the patient’s life,” he said.

He also spoke about how important it is for something to be learned from every patient’s treatment, something he believes is largely absent from the present medical establishment.

“I assert that in every medical encounter there are three people,” he said. “There is the doctor, there is the patient they’re dealing with, and there is the next patient in the room. It should be malpractice to not record what you did in the room to help the next patient. If you’re not helping the patient that’s not yet sitting there, that patient might die.”

Jamie made it clear at HXD that PatientsLikeMe’s design priority is patients, not doctors. He pointed to a 1999 Institute of Medicine report which suggested that if it were counted that way, medical errors would be the sixth leading cause of death in the United States — an indication that the physician-centered system, as is, isn’t working as well as it should.

“I don’t want to make hospitals better. I don’t want to make drug companies better. I want to make the experience of seeking healthcare better,” he said, “which means redefining the value chain: what it means to be healthy, what it means to be sick, what it means to live.”