Could texting ‘save more lives than penicillin’?

By: Neil Versel | Jun 21, 2012        

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Nancy Lublin TEDHow powerful is text messaging for reaching young people? “I think it might be able to save more lives than penicillin,” according to Nancy Lublin CEO and “chief old person” at, an organization that helps teens effect social change.

Lublin made that bold statement in a Feb. 28 presentation to TED University, a pre-conference session at TED 2012 in Long Beach, Calif. A video from that talk is making the rounds this week.

A smartphone “might be a lifeline,” Lublin said, after starting her short talk by showing a mobile handset to the audience. And it might be even more powerful for teenagers and young adults.

“The parents in the room know that texting is actually the best way to communicate with your kids. It might be the only way to communicate with your kids,” according to Lublin. She said that the average teen sends 3,339 text messages per month, which works out to more than 100 every day. “Unless she’s a girl, then it’s closer to 4,000,” Lublin said.

Seeing the potential of SMS, last year started shifting its outreach focus to text messaging. “We’re now texting out to about 200,000 kids a week,” Lublin noted. She said it is 11 times more powerful than e-mail. “Texting has a 100 percent open rate,” according to Lublin.

After receiving a text from a girl who had been raped by her father, the organization built a crisis text hotline. “This isn’t what we do. We do social change. Kids are just sending us these text messages because texting is so familiar and comfortable to them,” Lublin said.

“We could help millions of teens with counseling and referrals,” she realized. “That’s great. But the thing that really makes this awesome is the data. I’m not really comfortable just helping that girl with counseling and referrals. I want to prevent this [expletive] from happening,” Lublin said, in no uncertain terms.

“Think about the data from a crisis text line. There is no census on bullying and dating abuse and eating disorders and cutting and rape,” she said. Maybe there have been some academic studies on these subjects, but they can be expensive and take a long time to complete. Anecdotal evidence is plentiful, but it’s not scientific.

“Imagine having real-time data on every one of those issues. You could inform legislation. You could inform school policy,” Lublin said. “This is really, to me, the power of texting and the power of data.”

And the information can help address mental illness and domestic violence before they lead to things like rape, cutting and bulimia.


GreatCall raises $7M venture loan to expand 5Star mPERS

By: Brian Dolan | Jun 21, 2012        

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greatcallresponderSan Diego-based GreatCall, which offers the 5Star cellular-enabled personal emergency response (mPERS) device and service as well as the Jitterbug mobile phone service, has raised $7 million in a venture loan from NXT Capital Venture Finance. GreatCall’s existing investors include Charles River Ventures, Court Square Ventures, Nauta Capital, Steelpoint Capital Partners and Sumitomo.

GreatCall plans to use the funds to grow its portfolio of wireless health and wellness services, especially its mPERS offering.

“The team at NXT Capital Venture Finance structured a facility that allows us to continue to invest in the adoption of our new 5Star urgent response platform,” Bill Kuncz, GreatCall’s Chief Financial Officer said in a statement.

Last October GreatCall commercially launched its dedicated mPERS device, 5Star Responder. GreatCall began its foray into the mPERS market following its 2009 acquisition of mPERS company MobiWatch. The (mPERS) device could also take the form of an iPhone app called Instant Response. The device is available for $49.99 at GreatCall’s website and also at stores, including some Walmart and Sears locations. Both the device and app require their own $14.99 month subscription.

In April GreatCall launched an iPhone app version of its LiveNurse offering. The app offers users unlimited access to a registered nurse 24 hours a day and seven days a week along with a medical library and symptom navigator tool. GreatCall partnered with A.D.A.M. to include its medical encyclopedia and interactive decision tools, which are based on information from the NIH and CDC. While its free to download, the LiveNurse iPhone app requires users to have already signed up for a $3.99 monthly subscription. Previously, GreatCall offered the service through its Jitterbug Services Store for a couple of years, but it was only available for Jitterbug cell phone users.

Last summer GreatCall launched its very first iPhone app, called MedCoach. That launch marked a watershed moment for the company since it has focused since its founding on providing very simple mobile phones for the senior population. MedCoach’s offerings include medication management, a contact list of doctors and pharmacies, as well as 24/7 email access to the company’s HIPAA compliant personal assistance service. The app also includes a “Shake for Help” feature that leverages the iPhone’s built-in accelerometer: Users shake the phone and a help “bubble” specific to the content onscreen will appear. When it’s time to refill medications, the user’s pharmacy can be contacted directly from the app, too.

More on GreatCall’s venture loan in the press release below: Keep reading>>

Agile Diagnosis raises $2.5 million to develop CDS app for physicians

By: Brian Dolan | Jun 21, 2012        

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Agile DiagnosisAgile Diagnosis, a mobile health startup that recently graduated from health incubator Rock Health’s second class, has raised $2 million in funding, according to a regulatory filing. The startup hopes to raise an additional $1 million, according to the filing. A report in TechCrunch this week notes that the startup said it had raised $2.5 million during comments its founder made at the Rock Health Demo Day.

Agile Diagnosis has developed a predominantly mobile clinical decision support service that aims to be better than existing medical reference apps, which the startup refers to as little more than “eTextbooks”. The company’s first offering is an HTML5 web app built specifically for the iPad, according to TechCrunch. An iPhone app should launch later this year. The company expects to make the service available via a subscription.

According to the TechCrunch report, Agile Diagnosis looks to distinguish its offering with a better designed user interface that takes a decision tree format to “make clinical guidelines and medical information easier to digest and thus more actionable, as compared to the apps and web services that come densely-packed with text — the same format that has plagued medicine for decades,” TechCrunch wrote earlier this year.

Agile Diagnosis is also a graduate of another startup incubator, Y Combinator, and it received $150,000 in convertible debt upon graduating from that program.

How the FDA regulates pharmaceutical apps

By: admin | Jun 20, 2012        

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Bradley Merrill ThompsonBy Bradley Merrill Thompson

Mobile apps seem all the rage in the pharmaceutical industry.  According to the website InPharm, there are presently over 100 of them publicly available. Based on what I’m hearing from pharmaceutical companies directly, that’s only a small number compared to the apps in development.

Recently there’s been a debate going on in the UK about whether pharmaceutical apps are medical devices under EU law. Consulting firms Bluelight & d4 suggested in a January report that many health-related apps are indeed medical devices in the UK. Specific to pharmaceutical apps, the report suggests that at least in the UK “if your app will be associated with, contributes to or makes a clinical decision, assume that it will be classified as a medical device….” The report stirred quite a controversy among champions of innovation and free speech.

In the US, there’ve been a couple of events recently that have caused pharmaceutical companies to focus on these issues. First, FDA held a public hearing in March to take testimony on whether greater reliance on patient decision support software could allow certain drugs to be switched from prescription status to over-the-counter. That prompted companies to wonder how such software would be regulated. Further, on May 18, in an issue briefing for congressional staff, Dr. Jeff Shuren, the director of the center at FDA that regulates devices, spoke plainly about the agency’s intention to deregulate certain apps used for low-risk pharmaceutical management.

In my series of posts on this website 2 years ago, I laid out the basics of FDA regulation of mHealth. Now I’d like to expand that to address FDA regulation of pharmaceutical apps. Keep reading>>

Aetna takes iTriage app to iPad

By: Brian Dolan | Jun 19, 2012        

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iTriage iPad app ScreenshotThis week Aetna launched an iPad-specific version of its iTriage app, which it acquired for an undisclosed sum last year. The iTriage app aims to help its users determine what medical condition they might have and where they might choose to go for treatment. More recently the app gave its users the ability to book appointments with select doctors right from their mobile devices.

Like most iOS apps, iTriage could be used previously on iPad devices, but previously the app did not leverage the entire screen. The full-fledged iTriage iPad app has a different layout and design, but its core feature set is the same as its smartphone iterations.

Some of those other iTriage features include a searchable database of thousands of medical symptoms, diseases, procedures and medications; maps and turn-by-turn directions to a comprehensive directory of health facilities; wait times for some emergency rooms; pre-registration for some ER departments; emergency hotlines and MD and nurse advice lines; and a personal health record (PHR) stored in Microsoft’s HealthVault.

In March the app also added a search by ratings feature for healthcare facilities thanks to a partnership with

Boston Scientific’s pacemakers get Latitude NXT in Europe

By: Brian Dolan | Jun 18, 2012        

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Boston Scientific pacemakers Ingenio Invive AdvantioBoston Scientific’s Latitude NXT, a wireless remote patient management system that works with a handful of the medical device company’s pacemakers, has officially launched in Europe where a hospital in Italy implanted a Latitude-enabled pacemaker in a heart patient. The patient received an Ingenio SR pacemaker and a home-based wireless communicator. Latitude NXT is still pending FDA review for the US market.

The Latitude NXT system works with two other devices besides Ingenio SR pacemakers — Advantio pacemakers and Invive cardiac resynchronization therapy pacemakers.

Latitude NXT offers GSM cellular connectivity as an option. The system makes it easy for healthcare professionals to access information about their patients’ real-time pacemaker information. It also enables alert notifications via text messaging or email and it can integrate with some EMRs, too. Boston Scientific believes the EMR integration saves clinicians about 15 minutes, which is how long it takes to manually enter routine device follow-up data into EMRs.

Notably, Boston Scientific also offers wireless-enabled weight scales and blood pressure monitors for patients on its Latitude NXT system. This suite of devices helps physicians better monitor relevant biometrics. The system can also help doctors monitor respiratory and sleep apnea trending, according to the company.

Earlier this month Boston Scientific announced that the Ingenio pacemakers that will be able to connect to the Latitude NXT system in the future, have already rolled out in the US.

St. Luke’s and Roosevelt Hospital Center in New York City was among those healthcare facilities to first give patients the connected technology. In its St. Luke announcement, Boston Scientific explained that the system would “let physicians conduct remote follow-ups of these device patients to monitor specific device information and heart health status.” The medtech company also noted that “the system will also detect clinical events between scheduled visits and send relevant data directly to a secure website, which can be accessed by physicians. This wireless technology will allow patients to transmit data to physicians from most locations in North America without the need for landline-based technology.”

Unfortunately, these devices and companion services do not yet make the data available to the patients whose very body they reside in. One patient, named Hugo Campos, has led a movement to help patients get access to the data that is being wireless streamed from their own bodies. (More on Campos’ story in this NPR story from last month.)

More on Boston Scientific’ launch in Europe in the press release below: Keep reading>>