Study: Racing game can improve brain functions

By: Jonah Comstock | Sep 4, 2013        

Tags: | | | | | | | | | |  |

A study participant playing Neuroracer.

A new study from the University of California, San Francisco shows that a specially designed mobile video game could improve neural plasticity in older adults, improving their ability to multitask and to filter out distractions. A spin-off company is currently testing a version of the game for the possible treatment of ADHD, depression, or autism spectrum disorders.

The study, published in the September issue of Nature, included three different experiments with a car racing game, called Neuroracer, played on a laptop with a video game controller attached. The game tested multitasking by including two simultaneous sub-games: a 3D driving game, which required players to make left and right turns, slow down, and speed up their car, and a sign-recognition game, where players had to respond to signs on the screen differently depending on whether they included a green circle.

In the first experiment, 174 individuals between the ages of 20 and 79, with about 30 in each decade range, played an assessment version of the game, first with just the sign task and then with the sign task and the driving portion. The difference in performance between the two cases illustrated the participant’s multitasking ability, which researchers found declined progressively from the youngest to the oldest group.

Another experiment was done with a group of 46 adults aged 60 to 85, split into three groups. One group trained on the multitasking game regularly for a month, one trained on a single-task version, and one didn’t train at all. The multitasking group had a significantly improved performance on the game, but the study found that they also improved in other cognitive areas beyond what they practiced.

“What’s most novel here is other abilities that were not directly trained, such as sustained attention, which is vigilance, and working memory, their ability to hold on to something for a short period of time, also improved,” Adam Gazzaley, lead researcher on the study, said during a call with reporters.

The third experiment actually used electroenchephalograph scans to show that the game had a visible effect on the brain itself. The results showed that the multitasking group had significantly more activity in a part of the prefrontal cortex generally agreed to be associated with cognitive control.

Keep reading>>


WellDoc picks new board to help further commercialization of BlueStar

By: Brian Dolan | Sep 3, 2013        

Tags: | | | | | | | |  |

WellDoc BlueStarBaltimore, Maryland-based mobile health company WellDoc announced a new board of directors this week to help the company further commercialize its recently launched BlueStar product. The new board members include two just retired PricewaterhouseCoopers executives and a Washington insider. Up until now WellDoc’s board has largely consisted of the company’s own management team, but the new board will continue to include the company’s founder and CEO Ryan Sysko and its president and COO Anand Iyer. The new board members, which officially joined over the course of the past month, are Dr. David Levy, Terry Lierman, Donald Almeida and Michael Greenebaum.

WellDoc’s offering BlueStar provides real-time motivational, behavioral and educational coaching for diabetes management via mobile phones and other devices. It includes smart blood glucose testing, healthy diet and exercise choices, medication adherence, and quality standards of care such as A1c tests, foot exams, and blood pressure and lipid levels.

Sysko told MobiHealthNews in an interview that WellDoc took the same multidisciplinary approach to forming its new board that it did when putting together its management team.

Dr. David Levy, who retired from PwC earlier this summer, was the firm’s Global Healthcare Leader. Mobile health became an important focus area for PwC under Levy’s leadership, especially its potential in emerging markets. He’s also an epidemiologist who started and sold one of the early disease management companies, Franklin Health, which eventually ended up as a part of Alere.

Terry Lierman has held a number of positions in DC, but perhaps most notably served as Chief of Staff to the House of Representatives Majority Leader and Democratic Whip Congressman Steny Hoyer (D-MD). Lierman will be particularly helpful to WellDoc as it continues to navigate the government — for regulatory concerns, legislative actions, and as a potential customer.

Don Almeida also recently retired from PwC where he served as a Vice Chairman. During his 30 years at PwC he helped take a number of companies public, which Sysko told MobiHealthNews is not in WellDoc’s near future, but Tierman can help the company take the steps necessary to get WellDoc on the right path toward an eventual IPO.

Michael Greenebaum is taking over his father, Stuart’s, position on WellDoc’s board. Stuart Greenebaum has been a longtime investor and advisor to the company but his stepping down for health reasons.

While these new additions to WellDoc’s board of directors came together in the past month, the company is also formally announcing its advisory board this week, too. The advisory board includes Dr. Michael Stocker, who is Chairman of the Board of the New York City Health and Hospitals Corporation (HHC); Rt. Hon. Alan Milburn, who served under Prime Minister Tony Blair in the UK as Secretary of State for Health; Thomas Watkins, who is president and CEO of Human Genome Sciences; and Christopher Rogers, who co-founded Nextel Communications, which sold to Sprint for $35 billion.

“WellDoc has been really fortunate to have the opportunity to fund the company through angel investment,” WellDoc’s Chief Strategy & Commercial Officer Chris Bergstrom told MobiHealthNews. “That has allowed us to find uniquely attractive people who are passionate about getting involved in a company with their time and their money [as opposed to having to] go down a venture path where maybe the venture team brings in advisors of their own choosing. We have found our path to be phenomenal.”

Digital health needs more physician entrepreneurs

By: Neil Versel | Aug 31, 2013        


ArlenMyersJust as new physicians sometimes get caught unprepared for the business realities of an insurance-centric healthcare system because medical schools don’t teach practice management, so too are even the most creative doctors often lacking in entrepreneurial skills because medical schools don’t address that subject either, according to someone who is trying to remedy the situation.

“The biggest challenge to me is creating an entrepreneurial mindset in the physician community,” said Dr. Arlen D. Meyers, president and CEO of the Society of Physician Entrepreneurs (SOPE).

“I’m trying to engage the docs and empower them with innovation and knowledge.” Meyers told MobiHealthNews. He said most innovation in healthcare and medicine leaves out doctors and patients, particularly in the lucrative fields of drug and medical device development.

In his view, about 1 percent of U.S. physicians have the right mindset to be successful entrepreneurs. The Kaiser Family Foundation estimates that there are about 835,000 active physicians nationwide, meaning that Meyers believes there are less than 9,000 with solid entrepreneurial skills. “My challenge is to change the culture, and it starts in medical school,” said Meyers, a fellow of the National Academy of Inventors and a 2010 Fulbright scholar.

It is quite a challenge. “Go try changing a university,” said Meyers, a professor of otolaryngology, dentistry and engineering at the University of Colorado-Denver and an ENT at the Denver Veterans Affairs Medical Center, as well as a longtime entrepreneur himself. “I am trying to change people who have 2.7 trillion reasons not to change,” Meyers said, referring to how many dollars the U.S. spends annually on healthcare.

Meyers is working from both the inside and the outside. He created and directs a certificate program in bioinnovation and entrepreneurship at the University of Colorado for postdoctoral students who don’t want a career in academia. He and other like-minded physicians incorporated SOPE as a not-for-profit organization in January 2011. The society has a LinkedIn group with about 6,500 members, and Meyers said it is adding about 300-400 people each month, not all of whom are physicians.

He has seen a profound change in the landscape in just a few short years. “Innovation and entrepreneurship education for physicians is at least getting attention [now],” Meyers said.

In the meantime, digital health has taken center stage, noted Meyers, who co-founded MedVoy, an early-stage, online platform for managing patient referrals. “These are the golden years for digital health,” Meyers said.

However, interest could dry up if someone can link an adverse medical event to new technology. “One bad outcome and that’s the end of this,” Meyers said. He also expressed the sentiment that the proliferation of digital health incubators as accelerators is evidence that “this a bubble.”

What the industry really needs is some regulatory certainty and an easier path to scientific validation of digital health innovations, according to Meyers. “There is no digital health infrastructure to test it,” Meyers said. “I think NIH should create digital health research institutes, just like they do for devices and drugs.”

The long-expected Food and Drug Administration guidance on mobile medical apps could provide some clarity as well, Meyers said. While the investment community generally dislikes regulation, uncertainty is even worse.

Still, he is optimistic that entrepreneurs can and must fight the status quo. “The system is so screwed up, we have to be morons not to fix it,” Meyers said.

He is particularly bullish on telehealth. “I think the biggest opportunities have to do with non-face-to-face care in digital health,” Meyers said. He recommended that entrepreneurs follow business models that supplement in-person care.

Jitterbug Touch 2 offers seniors more health apps

By: Jonah Comstock | Aug 30, 2013        

Tags: | | | | | | |  |

Jitterbug Touch 2GreatCall announced the launch of Jitterbug Touch 2, its second generation smartphone offering for older Americans. GreatCall’s Jitterbug phones offer simplified user interfaces, cheaper data plans, and built-in health apps, all specifically geared to the older, less tech-savvy demographic.

The company, which recently partnered with Bosch Healthcare, launched the Jitterbug Touch in October 2012. Prior to that it offered only feature phones. With the Touch 2, the company has eliminated the slide-out QWERTY keyboard, but otherwise most of the first generation features remain. Like it’s predecessor, the Touch 2 is an Android phone.

Jitterbug worked with AARP to conduct a survey of older Americans to find what they wanted in a smartphone and based improvements on that data. For instance, the user interface has all the available apps listed with their full names in large letters, rather than relying on small icons. The survey also found that most older people were concerned about the price of data plans, so the Jitterbug 2 allows users to see their current data usage and fees at any time. Rates start at just $2.49 per month.

All the apps on the Jitterbug are preloaded, to save users the potential confusion of dealing with an app store. The original Jitterbug Touch included two health apps also released by GreatCall for standard smartphones. One, 5Star Urgent Response, allows the smartphone to serve as a mobile personal emergency response (or mPERS) device. The user can call for an emergency responder with a single button in the event of a fall or other unexpected health incident. Another app, MedCoach, helps seniors input their medication schedules and sends reminders when it’s time to take their pills.

The Jitterbug Touch 2 offers a new, third health app called Urgent Care. Urgent Care gives the users one-button access to a live, registered nurse who can give medical advice or assessments. The nurse can get a doctor if necessary who can give diagnoses and even simple prescriptions. The app also includes a medical dictionary and symptom checker tool.

Endomondo announces training plan, price hike

By: Jonah Comstock | Aug 30, 2013        

Tags: | | | |  |

endomondo trainingFitness app maker Endomondo added a training feature to the premium version of its Endomondo Sports Tracker app. The company also raised the subscription price of its premium app.

Endomondo has long been a force in the fitness app world, claiming 18 million users and a platform accessible on a wide range of devices including Apple, Android, Blackberry and Windows Phone. The company has raised $3.1 million over two funding rounds.

The new function, called Endomondo Training Plans, launches in open beta today online, and for iPhone and Android mobile users. Users can make a personalized plan to get them ready to run a given distance or increase their speed on a distance they’re already running. Options for training include 5k, 10k, Half Marathon, Marathon, or a custom distance.

The app creates a personalized training regimen based on users’ current fitness level, how many days a week they have available to work out, and their goals. The Training Regimen then sends push notifications to the users to hold them accountable to their plans. The app will also use audio coaching to inform people about intervals and pacing as they run. If a user improves faster or slower than anticipated, their training program adjusts itself automatically.

With the addition of the Training Plan, Endomondo raised the monthly subscription rate for its premium app from $2.99 to $3.99 and the yearly rate from $19.99 to $29.99.

“We’ve worked on Training Plans for months and we believe it will be a great value-add for our users,” the company wrote in a blog post to users. “Rather than charging for each program separately, we prefer to include the feature in our Premium package so that Premium users can generate as many programs as they like at no extra cost.”

Current users will be grandfathered at their current rate, according to the company, and anyone will be able to test out the new features with a free 30-day trial.

Mayo: Fitbit data predicts surgical recovery time

By: Jonah Comstock | Aug 30, 2013        

Tags: | | | | | |  |
Mayo Clinic fitbit

The Fitbit as it was used to track cardiac surgery patients.

Mayo Clinic has finally published a study, completed last year, on using a Fitbit activity tracker to monitor recovery in cardiac surgery patients. They found that step tracking with the Fitbit was easy and cost-effective to implement, and preliminary data suggests that collecting step data could help hospitals determine the appropriate length of stay for a patient recovering from surgery.

In February, MobiHealthNews reported that 90 percent of the 149 patients expressed satisfaction with the Fitbit and the MyCare app used in the study, while 80 percent said they were comfortable using the app.

The published study, which came out in the September issue of the Annals of Thoracic surgery, also includes data about the number of steps recorded in the study, and how those steps correlated with length of stay and with whether the patient was sent home or discharged to a skilled nursing facility.

Patients who had the shortest hospital stay also walked the most on all days in the study, by a statistically significant margin. Likewise, patients bound for home walked more than those headed for a nursing facility (675 vs 108 steps on average for the second recovery day, for instance).

“Although it is obvious that patients who recover mobility sooner are likely to have better outcomes, it is critical in the face of changing demographics and financial rules that we measure functional measures of recovery for individuals and populations,” the study authors write. “Functional status and variables such as mobility will impact discharge disposition, patient satisfaction, social support required, falls, hospital readmission, and ultimately health care costs.”

By establishing a mobility baseline for particular demographics, the authors suggest, hospitals can better detect patients who aren’t recovering as fast as they should and help them. Also, being able to predict a patient’s length of stay helps hospitals manage space and resources. The study authors contrasted the way this data is normally used and collected today.

“Specific patient mobility data are typically found in nursing notes and are not usually part of the workflow of the surgical team,” they write. “Such data may not be obtained in all patients and are intermittent (two or three times a day). With wireless technology, data are objective, acquired, and displayed nearly continuously. This means of acquiring information can greatly simplify information transfer in the hospital and demonstrates the power of remote monitoring.”

Mayo clinic fitbit data