HealthTap acquires Avvo’s health business

By: Jonah Comstock | Nov 29, 2012        

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healthtapHealthTap, the doctor question and answer service that has recently been expanding into a care provider directory and referral network, has acquired the health business of Avvo, a Q&A website that connects users to lawyers and doctors, for an undisclosed amount.

HealthTap will add about 13,000 new doctors to its network, bringing its total to more than 30,000 physician users, CEO Ron Gutman told MobiHealthNews in an interview. It’s not just the raw numbers that are exciting, he said, but the way the acquisition diversifies their base of physicians.

“We added more specialties, so it broadens our coverage and our reach,” he said, adding that the move takes them from 115 specialties to 128. “What excites me most is the local aspect of it. We’re gaining a much broader geographic coverage.”

In addition to the network of physician users (which recently added a ranking system to its functionality), HealthTap has a directory of doctors and dentists around the country, as well as a database of which colleagues each doctor refers patients to. Last month, HealthTap launched its DocConnect system, which presents that referral data to patients in map form. The acquisition will bring the total number of doctors and dentists in that directory to 1.2 million, Gutman said.

“We’re in the process right now of matching the referral data we have to all the physicians in the directory,” he said. “A good percentage of them we will be able to match, because we had referral data for more than just the doctors in our network. It’s a very, very extensive directory, so you can imagine it’s a huge data task.” HealthTap estimated the number of network and referral connections at 30 million.

Avvo will continue to provide their legal answers service, which was their initial focus when they launched in 2007. They added their health section in November 2010.

“Avvo’s legal business is booming, and … we’ve decided to focus 100 percent of our attention on expanding our consumer legal services and helping lawyers grow their business,” Mark Britton, founder and CEO of Avvo, said in a statement. “Just as Avvo is the premier destination for people looking for legal advice, HealthTap is the leading source for trusted answers to health questions and peer-reviewed medical professionals, which makes HealthTap the right choice to carry on the conversation between consumers and medical professionals.”

“I think they will continue doing well in legal,” Gutman said of Avvo. “They were excited to sell and it was a quite a competitive deal.”

Gutman told MobiHealthNews that although the client base was a key part of HealthTap’s first acquisition, it’s not the only thing HealthTap is gaining.

“We acquired the entire health section lock, stock, and barrel: the physicians in the network, all the questions and answers, all the data, connections between the doctors,” he said.

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FDA clears AFrame’s MobileCare Monitor as Class II device

By: Neil Versel | Nov 28, 2012        

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aframe mobilecareAFrame Digital, a Reston, Va.-based maker of telemonitoring technology, has received 510(k) clearance from the FDA to sell its MobileCare Monitor as a Class II medical device in the US. The company has had less-stringent Class I approval for its flagship monitoring product since 2009.

MobileCare Monitor is a wristwatch-like device that offers continuous, real-time monitoring for seniors, people with chronic diseases and others who might have high health and safety risks. The monitor links by Bluetooth to personal medical devices, measures patient gait, automatically detects falls and offers a panic button for wearers to summon help.

In case of a fall or an abnormal reading, the system sends an alert to designated caregivers via a smartphone or other mobile device. Patients and their caregivers also can view data in real time through a Web-based portal, featuring dashboards and drill-down decision trees.

The monitoring platform is intended to support the Program of All-inclusive Care for the Elderly (PACE) model of caring for older adults, according to the company. “Telemonitoring is increasingly important for health providers, accountable care organizations and PACE programs as they transition to performance-based models of payment and patient-centric models of care,” Jill DeGraff Thorpe, AFrame Digital’s VP for strategic initiatives, explains in a press release.

“A benefit of MobileCare Monitor is that it places a virtual safety net under individuals as they go about their daily activities. Not only do they enjoy greater independence and mobility, their formal or informal caregivers do too, including members of their family,” adds AFrame Digital COO Bruce Wilson. “Also, it successfully leverages technology to enable unparalleled personalized support, since caregivers can customize alerts based on each patient’s individual care plan or wellness profile.”

Kvedar to tackle consumer health with Wellocracy

By: Neil Versel | Nov 28, 2012        

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Dr. Joseph Kvedar, Center for Connected HealthA new company from Center for Connected Health (CCH) Director Dr. Joseph Kvedar will take a stab at the difficult task of engaging consumers in their own health by studying the missteps of others and attempting to simplify the processes of education and motivation.

Kvedar and business partners, including self-help author Carol Colman and integrative medicine practitioner – and former personal trainer – Dr. Justin Mager, will formally launch the company, called Wellocracy, at the SilversSummit, part of the massive annual Consumer Electronics Show in January. (Update: Kvedar made clear his intention to stay with the CCH, and his formal position at Wellocracy is still to be determined.) Wellocracy is intended to be “a community dedicated to improving the health of regular folks,” Kvedar says in an online chat with MobiHealthNews.

“We see the barrage of activity monitors coming on the market, and our hypothesis as to why they are not getting more sustainable traction is that they are complicated to use (and the choice of which one to use is also complicated), that they are thin in overlying motivational components and that folks are busy and intimidated about changing their life around to dedicate time to be more active,” Kvedar explains. He says that Wellocracy will “fix all of these things” as well as other problems he expects users to educate the team about.

“The goal of Wellocracy is at once simple and daunting – to get America moving, and to motivate our citizens to move to a healthier state. It turns out that the formula is straightforward: a) track your activity, b) find your individual set of motivational tools and c) find ways to increase your activity without disrupting your life,” Kvedar writes on the Center for Connected Health blog.

The launch will involve the unveiling of the Wellocracy website and publication of the first in a planned series of short, “installment-type” e-books, Kvedar says in the online chat. “We will publish a series of e-books and have a resource-rich, community-based website for people to learn about the power of self-tracking, feedback loops, motivational triggers and integrating healthy activities into their lives in ways that are not disruptive to living,” he explains.

The first book, which could be online before the end of the year as part of a soft launch, will be called “Move to a Great Body,” and will highlight the power of activity tracking to improve health, according to Kvedar. “The books will be linked heavily to the website and the website, in turn, will have lots of both editorial content and user-generated content,” he says.

While Wellocracy will debut at the SilversSummit, the company is not necessarily targeted at older people or at people with chronic diseases. “People will have many different motivations to get more active. Some will want to fit into their tight jeans and some will want to lick Type 2 diabetes – and everything in between,” Kvedar says. “Our goal is to collect them, educate them, motivate them and have them educate/motivate one another.”

He says the relationship between Wellocracy and the Center for Connected Health, part of Harvard-Affiliated Partners HealthCare, is “being worked out.” Kvedar helped to found Healthrageous back in 2009, which also spun out of the Center for Connected Health. That company has just brought Partners back on as an investor.

Ginger.io raises $6.5M, led by Khosla

By: Jonah Comstock | Nov 28, 2012        

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Ginger.ioBehavior monitoring and analytics startup Ginger.io has raised $6.5 million dollars in its first round of funding, led by increasingly frequent digital health investor Khosla Ventures. Existing investors from the company’s $1.7 million seed round in October 2011, True Ventures and Romulus Capital, also contributed.

Ginger.io, which absorbed mobile health startup Pipette earlier this year, offers a mobile-based software platform that passively monitors a person’s mobile phone use: How much they’re texting, calling, answering calls, etc. Although the initial use case the company touted was for clinical research, the focus now is population health management. Ginger.io provides an alert system for behavior changes in individuals with chronic or mental health conditions like diabetes or depression. The software sends data about the trends (though not the monitoring data itself) to doctors and gives them the equivalent of a “check engine light” if, for instance, a patient becomes withdrawn and stops making calls.

“The number of people who realize the value of this data but haven’t had access to it,” CEO and co-founder Anmol Madan told MobiHealthNews, is compelling. “There’s a bit of a difference between how researchers want to use the system and how providers want to use the system for population health management.”

Madan said the investment came at a time when the company has more interest from potential customers than resources to meet the demand. (The company is currently hiring various types of engineers and product managers.)

“We have about a dozen or so institutions that are using our systems today,” Madan said. “We probably have 40 or 50 qualified leads but we don’t have the resources to support them. We’re realizing there’s a lot of interest and a lot of need, but not having the resources to scale up to meet that need.”

In order to develop the analytics platform for use across different diseases, the company needs to do research to develop behavior baselines, which Madan described as “signatures” for each of the conditions it wants to address. Identifying those signatures is one initiative this funding will support.

Ginger.io also depends on patients having smartphones, but Madan said that hasn’t been a problem so far.

“We haven’t had a single customer come back and say ‘I can’t use your system because my patients don’t have smartphones,’ ” he said.

Khosla Investors’ portfolio includes appointment booking app ZocDoc, iPhone ECG developer AliveCor, medical peripheral device maker CellScope, and wearable device makers Misfit Wearables and Jawbone. Founder Vinod Khosla made headlines in August when he proclaimed at the Health Innovation Summit in San Francisco when he said that machines will eventually replace 80 percent of doctors. Madan said that, while they appreciate the disruptive attitude, he doesn’t necessarily agree with that remark.

“It mainly reflects the mindset that Khosla Ventures and other firms across the space have. Their key goal is to manage costs,” Madan said. “Our mindset is not to erase doctors. Our mindset is to work with the doctor, with the nurse, make their job more efficient.”

Hello Health raises $11.5M for EHR, video consults platform

By: Jonah Comstock | Nov 28, 2012        

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Apple Hello HealthMyca Health company Hello Health raised $11.5 million this week in a round led by First Generational Capital. Hello Health just raised $10 million raised in February, which brings the subsidiary’s total funding in 2012 to $21.5 million. Hello Health said the money would be used for meeting increased demand for its free EHR system, notable for its patient-facing component, including a subscription portion that allows the system to generate revenue for practices. First Generation contributed $10 million, the vast majority of the round.

“Independent physicians are beginning to test alternative business models,” Ian Ihnatowycz, president and chief executive officer of First Generation, said in a statement. “Research estimates one in three independent physicians will aim for higher yields by adopting subscription-based care models, and this trend will increase 100 percent annually for the next three years.”

Hello Health is reaching out to those physicians with a web-based software suite that Fast Company once described as a “Facebook-like medical platform”. As well as providing back-end support for practices, Hello Health includes patient communication tools like secure messaging, patient access to prescriptions and medical records, and video consultations enabled through the system. Some of those features are free to patients, but others are opt-in for a small fee (around $5). Hello Health, which is free for providers, makes its money by taking a cut of patient fees. Last year Myca disclosed that Apple was using the Hello Health platform in its on-site clinic in Cupertino and longtime Myca partner Qualcomm also leverages Hello Health at its workplace clinic.

The company said it would use the funding to seek out strategic partnerships and add more revenue opportunities for doctors using the platform.

In September Hello Health co-founder Dr. Jay Parkinson, who left the company in late 2010, raised $1.85 million for his new startup, Sherpaa, which is focused on helping startups and small companies navigate healthcare and health insurance for their employees.

Early studies show mobiles can encourage exercise

By: Jonah Comstock | Nov 27, 2012        

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Fitbit Zip Fitbit OneA new meta-analysis of 11 studies shows that mobile device-enabled interventions can help increase people’s physical activity. The study, published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research, is the first meta-analysis of its kind, according to the authors.

The 11 studies looked at a broad range of mobile interventions, a few of which seem out of date in the current market. Eight of the 11 used text messaging to offer motivation and report activity. Four used smartphone apps, and two used Personal Digital Assistants, or PDAs.

“You go to conferences and there’s a lot of talk about mobile health interventions,” said Jason Fanning of the University of Illinois at Champagne-Urbana, one of the authors on the study, “but we didn’t have a concrete or objective way of looking at this.” Fanning says this foundational data will give a comparison point for future studies, possibly involving newer technologies.

A total of 1,351 individuals participated in the 11 studies. Three studies reported no effect, but the others all showed a positive effect. It was difficult to pull together aggregate data, Fanning said, because the studies used different metrics for success when it came to increasing physical activity: different studies used self-reported activity, pedometer data, accelerometer data, and metabolic equivalents.

Though there wasn’t enough data to draw statistically significant conclusions, Fanning said the effectiveness of the studies suggested a few trends. He said interventions that involved goal setting seemed to do better, and that frequent engagement predicted success.

“Those interventions that were interacted with most frequently were more effective, especially with an SMS-based intervention,” Fanning said.

Activity trackers and companion apps are already available in the market, of course, such as the Fitbit One, Misfit’s Shine, Jawbone’s UP bracelet and BodyMedia’s FIT armband. Fanning says he’s looking forward to efficacy data on those products.

“In the near future there will be a small number of validation papers coming out on some of those devices, and that will be interesting,” he said. “If those are more valid, you’ll see a much higher saturation of those devices in a research context.”