Google Body relaunches as Zygote Body app

By: Chris Gullo | Oct 17, 2011        

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zygote-body-thumbnailsGoogle Body Browser, a Google Earth-like explorer for the human anatomy that launched last December as part of the now-defunct Google Labs project, will be reborn as a free Android app and web application called Zygote Body, according to a report over at MedGadget.

Google Body Browser allowed users to explore human anatomy via a three dimensional browser that included layer options (such as skin, tissue, and bone). The Body Browser was part of Google’s Labs project, which showcased prototype experimental apps developed by Google engineers. Google Labs’ closure was announced in July and it officially ceased operations on October 14th.

The developer Zygote created the 3D models used in the Body Browser. While Zygote is releasing their own application that builds off the Body Browser, Google announced that it plans to open source the code for Body Browser and make it available for free to developers soon.

Here’s the full message from Google posted on Google Body’s site last month (the site is now redirecting to Zygote’s page):

“As Google Labs winds down, we will be retiring Google Body. However, you will soon be able to find its functionality elsewhere. We are working on open-sourcing the code that powers Google Body so that anyone will be able to create and run a searchable 3D viewer. We are also working with our partner, Zygote Media Group, on an application called Zygote Body. This application will be free, available on the web and on Android, and will enable students, teachers, and others using Google Body to continue to have access to a human anatomy browser.”

According to our recent report on professional medical apps, there were 242 anatomy apps available for download in Apple’s AppStore as of July 2011. MobiHealthNews expects that number to spike to more than 350 anatomy apps by next summer.

Google’s better known health-related offering, Google Health, was shuttered this past June due to an inability to scale up user adoption. Google announced the shutdown of Google Labs — and, in turn, Google Body — one month later.

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Read more about the Zygote transition over at MedGadget here.

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Leveraging location in consumer health apps

By: Chris Gullo | Oct 14, 2011        

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My Place History

This week MobiHealthNews covered the launch of a new mobile advertising network for healthcare providers, called Tomorrow Networks, that also has plans to target consumers using health apps with relevant advertising. Interestingly, the twist was that the ad network was only interested in apps that made use of a user’s location, because, as Tomorrow Networks partner Physicians Interactive’s President Sanjay Pingle told us: “Healthcare is still very local and advertising to consumers in a particular zip code or region will prove effective.”

That got us thinking about how consumer health apps that leverage geolocation data to help users stay well, get well, or track their health. By our count there aren’t too many substantial health apps available that make use of location yet.

Below are our picks for six GPS-enabled medical apps worth knowing about. Be sure to let us know which ones we missed in the comments section below.

iTriage

Designed and developed by two Denver-based ER doctors, iTriage aims to help consumers make better healthcare decisions by providing relevant medical info and access to local healthcare facilities. iTriage features a provider search function that leverages the iPhone’s GPS or IP address location to find the nearest highly-regarded medical facilities and physicians, then gives users turn-by-turn directions. The newest version of the app includes over 1,000 medication listings, as well as an updated provider search function. iTriage currently has over three million downloads.

My Place History

At the 2009 TEDMED conference, Bill Davenhall, who leads the health and human services marketing team at geographic information service ESRI, made the case that adding environmental data to patients’ charts — places the patients lived, types of chemicals and particulates found in those locations’ air — could be important in improving patient care. Davenhall’s case rested on the hypothesis that living in some environments may predispose a person to certain diseases, so having a conversation about geography should be a part of a patient’s visit with their physician.

A friend of Davenhall’s allowed his location to be tracked every day for two years via his cell phone. Davenhall compiled the data and mapped his friends locations against those location’s environmental data — much of which is tracked by the National Institutes of Health. Davenhall used that test to develop My Place History, which uses public domain databases such as the Toxic Release Inventory (TRI) of the United States Environmental Protection Agency, and the National Institute of Health’s known chemical database, to show hazards near the user’s location.

Spiroscout

Spiroscout is a GPS and WiFi-enabled device that attaches to an inhaler and records the location and time of when medication was administered. User can then upload the data to a computer for later review. Lights on the device let you know when it has detected use, and also show remaining battery level. The device provides a much needed upgrade to the handwritten use-logs patients are supposed to be writing to help their doctors understand their condition. Additionally, epidemiologists will have more accurate data to analyze about asthma sufferers as well as GPS-based air quality trends. The device is an upgrade from Van Sickle’s 2009 device SilonSky GPS which required an extra box that users would have to carry around — now the GPS unit just sits right on top of the inhaler.

Allergy Alert

SDI’s Allergy Alert is one of many allergy apps that displays the pollen and allergy forecast for a user’s location, which is found via GPS. The app is integrated with the Ford SYNC with AppLink system and keep drivers aware of allergy, flu and asthma alerts in the areas they are driving through. You can control the app with your voice (“Allergy”, “Pollen”, “Flu” and so on) or with the radio preset buttons. SDI showed off the Allergy Alert app for the iPhone at an event held by Ford earlier this year focused on mHealth features in its vehicles.

Sickweather

Sickweather is an upcoming app, currently in beta, which plans to track illnesses that occur within a user’s circle of friends to help them stay well by avoiding contact with the infected. Sickweather taps into social networks like Twitter and Facebook to detect the presence of sick friends.  The free service hopes to use an ad-supported business model to generate revenue. The site uses Twitter’s API to identify a user’s particular location, but the startup’s algorithm looks for keywords related to sickness such as “bronchitis,” pneumonia,” and “pertussis” and uses public information sources to see contagious illness affecting a certain area.

AED Locations

AED Locations allows users in New Zealand to locate the nearest AED (Automatic External Defibrillator) in an emergency situation using the iPhone’s GPS. The app then uses Google Maps to give users directions to the AED. AED owners can also contribute their device’s location to a country-wide database .

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Three notable recent mobile health investments

By: Brian Dolan | Oct 13, 2011        

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ZocDoc

ZocDoc's iPhone and Android Apps

As discussed in our recent report: State of the Mobile Health Industry: Q3 2011, the hubbub over the FDA’s proposed guidelines for mobile medical apps will likely be the most memorable event from these past three months. However, time will tell whether this was also the period during which investment into mobile health began to accelerate.

MobiHealthNews tracked more than 20 venture capital deals during the months of July, August, and September this year – more than any other quarter since we began tracking investments in this sector three years ago. Here’s our pick for three of the top investments from recent months.

ZocDoc, an online and mobile physician and dentist appointment booking platform, received two cash injections during the quarter. In early August the company announced a whopping $50 million round. Less than two months later ZocDoc announced that Goldman Sachs had just chipped in an additional $25 million. While doctors pay a monthly fee of $250 to enable ZocDoc to fill their schedules, the service is free to patients. It also works on both Android and iOS devices. The company wasn’t fully distracted by all the fundraising, however, it also brought its service to the Boston area during the quarter.

DrChrono, an iPad-specific electronic medical records vendor, also had two separate funding announcements during the third quarter, but its rounds were significantly smaller than ZocDoc’s. In July DrChrono pocketed $675,000. About a month later the startup added $650,000 in additional funding from Yuri Milner, founder of DST Global, and venture capital firm General Catalyst. DrChrono received an inordinate amount of press from Silicon Valley press thanks to the investments and other news the startup made during the quarter, but with enviable design savvy and a focus on the most popular tablet in healthcare, its certainly one to watch.

AliveCor, which has developed the iPhoneECG device, announced its first round of funding during the quarter. We broke the news that Qualcomm Ventures, Burrill & Company, and the Oklahoma Life Sciences Fund contributed a total of $3 million to the cardiac-focused startup. AliveCor inadvertently made a big splash at the Consumer Electronics Show this past January when its founder posted a video demo of the device intended for an industry colleague who was unable to attend CES at the last minute. The demo video went viral in tech and healthcare circles and led to appearances on major news network shows and resulted in iPhoneECG becoming one of the breakout stories of the event. The device still doesn’t have FDA clearance, but the startup is working toward it currently.

Overall, we tracked hundreds of millions of investment dollars that flowed into the space over the past three months — largely thanks to a handful of big deals like those ZocDoc landed. Still, the investment trend is positive. Learn more about it in our quarterly report, available here.

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How the government regulates fitness apps

By: Brian Dolan | Oct 13, 2011        

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Brian Dolan, Editor, MobiHealthNewsThe Wall Street Journal published a report  last summer that questioned whether “toning” sneakers like Skechers Shape-Ups or Reebok’s EasyTones really help users get in better shape. The article included two links to case studies on the respective sneaker makers’ sites that touted the various fitness benefits provided by the sneakers. The sneakermakers actually asked the WSJ to update the article with those links to better tell their side of the story.

Neither of those two links work anymore.

That’s probably because the Federal Trade Commission complained that Reebok had made unsupported claims in advertisements for the shoes.

“In its ongoing effort to stem overhyped advertising claims, the Federal Trade Commission announced that Reebok International Ltd. has agreed to resolve charges that the company deceptively advertised ‘toning shoes,’ which it claimed would provide extra tone and strength to leg and buttock muscles,” a press release posted on the FTC site last month stated. “Reebok will pay $25 million as part of the settlement agreement. The funds will be made available for consumer refunds either directly from the FTC or through a court-approved class action lawsuit.”

The FTC alleged that Reebok made false claims, including that “walking in EasyTone footwear had been proven to lead to 28 percent more strength and tone in the buttock muscles, 11 percent more strength and tone in the hamstring muscles, and 11 percent more strength and tone in the calf muscles than regular walking shoes.”

While not mentioned by the FTC, Skechers also took down the case study for its toning sneakers, so I assume they got the hint.

About three weeks before the Reebok announcement, the FTC forced two “acne cure” smartphone app developers out of the Apple AppStore and Android Market for making certain health-related claims without scientific evidence.

Skechers actually has a companion iPhone app called Skechers Fitness Tracker that promises to make “tracking your workouts in Skechers Shape-Ups effortless” and uses the “iPhone’s built-in GPS technology to track your walking, running, cycling and hiking activities.” As far as we can tell, the app’s description never made claims similar to the ones that the FTC complained about and, as a result, appears to have survived the fallout unchanged.

Still, it’s clear that the US Food & Drug Administration (FDA) is not the only regulator that need be considered:

“While the current conversation around mobile health regulation has focused on whether a mobile medical app meets the FDA’s definition of a medical device, these recent moves by the FTC make clear that health and fitness app and device developers also need to be careful about the kinds of claims they make,” Robert Jarrin, Senior Director, Government Affairs for Qualcomm and Co-Chair Continua’s US Policy Group told me in a recent interview.

I think these recent moves by the FTC show that the regulator is paying attention to fitness and health claims, however, as our recent Consumer Health Apps for Apple’s iPhone report found, there are some 9,000 such apps available for the iPhone alone. How will the FTC monitor them all? The acne apps and the toner sneakers may be the exceptions since they both received considerable attention from various media outlets.

A new app called GlassesOff is set to become available to iPhone users some time next year. The app developer, Ucansi, claims that the program “can help you achieve over 80 percent improvement in vision acuity.” Wow. Given that CBS News is one of the first media outlets to report on the app pre-launch, they better be prepared to prove it works as advertised to the FTC, while proving it doesn’t work like a medical device to the FDA.

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Walgreens lets customers order refills via SMS

By: Chris Gullo | Oct 12, 2011        

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Walgreens prescription text alertsWalgreens recently announced the launch of an SMS reminder system for prescription refills. The free service reminds patients about medications due for a refill and makes it easy for them to replenish their meds: Patients need only reply “refill” to the reminder text.

Walgreens already offers a Prescription Ready Text Alerts service, which notifies customers when a prescription order is ready for pickup. It launched in March of 2010 and counted 1 million users a year later. According to the company, the service now counts more than 2 million users.

Walgreens also has a smartphone app, Refill by Scan, that (fittingly) refills applications by scanning the bottle’s barcode. It also counted one million users this March after launching last November.

“We’ve driven strong adoption and customer engagement through our mobile applications, and these mobile pharmacy features are also great tools for helping people manage their health,” stated Sona Chawla, Walgreens president of e-commerce, in a press release. “This is another way we’re extending the access to Walgreens pharmacy to patients on the go and helping them stay well.”

“Medication non-adherence is one of the biggest hurdles in treating illness today, responsible for more than $100 billion each year in avoidable hospitalizations3,” stated Cheryl Pegus, Walgreens CMO, in a press release. “Personalized services that can help patients remain compliant with their prescription regimens can be effective in lowering health care costs and improving patient care.”

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Read the press release below. Keep reading>>

St. Jude adds mobile alerts to implantable device monitor

By: Chris Gullo | Oct 12, 2011        

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merlin_at_homeSt. Jude Medical announced new features for its Merlin.net remote patient monitoring offering, Patient Care Network (PCN), including mobile alerts for physicians and improved data export to EHRs.

Mobile DirectAlerts, a notification system for iOS, Android, and BlackBerry devices, enables physicians to receive messages whenever a patient triggers the device’s alert system.

In addition, an Auto EHRDirect Export feature transmits data from the Merlin@home device directly to a clinic or hospital’s EHR system using the IDCO (Implantable Device Cardiac Observation) profile, “an industry standard for the transfer of information from an interrogated implantable cardiac device to information management systems.”

The Merlin@home device first received wireless support in May 2010: St. Jude Medical launched a wireless USB adaptor for its Merlin@home transmitter for patients with implantable cardiac devices last spring. The new adaptor allowed important patient data from the patient’s implantable cardiac device to be wirelessly downloaded and securely transmitted via cellular networks to a physician for review. Previously Merlin@home required a landline telephone line.

“Our intention with these Merlin.net PCN updates is to make the collection and utilization of patient and device data as convenient as possible for physicians managing patients with complex cardiac conditions,” stated St. Jude Medical Cardiac Rhythm Management Division president Eric S. Fain, M.D., in a press release. “As hospitals are increasingly focused on implementing robust EHR systems, this upgrade shows our commitment to offering physicians the technology necessary to provide efficient and secure solutions for the transfer of health data into those systems.”

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Read the press release below. Keep reading>>