Fitbit adds wireless syncing for two Android phones, more to come

By: Jonah Comstock | Feb 13, 2013        

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Fitbit Flex__ColorsActivity tracking device maker Fitbit has announced a major upgrade this week, its devices now wirelessly sync to Android devices using Bluetooth 4.0. At launch, syncing will be enabled for the Samsung Galaxy S3 and the Samsung Galaxy Note II, with more promised to come.

Just like they do now with iOS devices (and the Microsoft Surface tablet), the Fitbit One, Fitbit Zip, and the forthcoming Fitbit Flex will sync automatically whenever they’re near a compatible device, to transmit data about steps taken, stairs climbed, calories burned, and more. Data syncing will take about 30 seconds, according to the company, although the company hopes to cut that time down in a future update.

Fitbit will take the wireless syncing one step further when the Fitbit Flex is released. The device will be enabled with NFC connectivity, allowing the bracelet to sync with Android devices just by being held up against the phone.

Health app developers and connected device makers tend to develop for iOS first. This is partly because developers find it easier to work with Apple’s suite of devices, rather than the many different devices that run the Android operating system.

The Fitbit team wrote on their blog that they started working on Android syncing the same time that they began working on that feature for iOS devices, but Android presented additional challenges.

“Currently, the Android OS does not provide apps with access to the Bluetooth 4.0 chips in newer phones. To work around this, some phones instead have custom software that provides access to Bluetooth 4.0. Since this software is different for each phone, our team has worked on developing a solution for each phone independently,” they wrote.

The timing of Fitbit’s announcement is somewhat fortuitous for the company, coming just two days after Nike+ made it clear that they have no plans to create a FuelBand app for Android, despite previous statements to the contrary.

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iPad-equipped medical school class scores 23 percent higher on exams

By: Jonah Comstock | Feb 13, 2013        

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ipad_710x187In 2011, MobiHealthNews reported on an increasing number of medical schools instructing students to use mobile devices, including the University of California Irvine’s iMedEd program, where each of the 104 medical students in the class of 2014 received an iPad from the school when they started in 2010. Now the evidence is starting to come in that tablets as an educational tool really make a difference in the medical setting. UC Irvine reported this week that the first class to receive the iPads scored an average of 23 percent higher on national exams than previous classes, even though their incoming GPA and MCAT scores were comparable.

Apple has taken notice of the iMedEd program, as well. UC Irvine reported that iMedEd has been named a 2012-2013 Apple Distinguished Program, a distinction the company gives to programs that use Apple technology to “meet criteria for visionary leadership, innovative learning and teaching, ongoing professional learning, compelling evidence of success, and a flexible learning environment,” according to the UC Irvine release.

In the program, an endowed fund pays for fully loaded, newest-generation iPads for each incoming medical class at the school. The iPads contain a full suite of electronic textbooks, as well as podcasts of lectures and class management systems on the iPad’s iTunes U software.

The university reports that students have gone beyond those tools, as well, exploring other possibilities for mobile health with their devices. In November, students from the medical school and from UC Irvine’s School of Information and Computer Science worked together to create 19 health apps for Apple devices in the school’s first-ever Med AppJam. Other students have been exploring the potential for iPads and portable ultrasounds around the globe, traveling to Nicaragua, Australia, Peru, China and Vietnam to teach local physicians how to use the technologies.

“Our students’ enthusiasm and willingness to discover new learning modalities is unparalleled, and they are key to the success of iMedEd,” Dr. Warren Wiechmann, faculty director of UC Irvine’s Instructional Technologies Group, which oversees iMedEd, said in a statement. “It’s extremely gratifying to see our students apply technology in innovative ways because we strongly believe that familiarity and comfort with technology will be essential for them to be skilled physicians in this new digital era of medicine.”

MIT hackathon tackles HIV, CHF, Parkinson’s with open-source technology

By: Neil Versel | Feb 13, 2013        

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CollabRhythmIt seems counterintuitive for those who proudly wear the “hacker” label to seek ways to work with established industry players rather than being disruptive in a healthcare sector badly in need of radical change, but that was what happened at Health and Wellness Innovation 2013, the recently concluded 11-day event better known as MIT Media Lab’s Health and Wellness Hackathon.

The hackathon brought engineering and medical faculty and students together with companies including Humana, Novartis and Pharmiweb Solutions to build commercially ready products using MIT Media Lab’s open-source CollaboRhythm platform and open standards.

“The hackathon itself is not enough to produce change, but it’s an opportunity to expose important players in the ecosystem—pharma, insurers, medical diagnostics companies, startup entrepreneurs, consumer electronics companies—to the value of using and contributing to these platforms,” organizer Dr. John Moore tells Fast Company. “It’s rare to get these players to converge, but these 80 people are influencers, and now they know each other so they can collaborate. Big innovations will come when they all see how they can benefit each other.”

The requirement to use open-source software—also including the MIT-developed Indivo X personalized health records system—for building health trackers and other digital health tools is meant to foster interoperability, according to the Fast Company report. “The tradition in health care technology is, ‘This is our device, we make our own software,'” Moore explains. “The goal is to connect that bit of knowledge to the rest of your health experience. Just keeping track of your step count, for example, won’t let you change the rest of your life.”

He says that the commonality might be more difficult for developers, “but it ensures that the prototype will be something that has legs.”

The six teams that gathered in Cambridge, Mass., Jan. 22-Feb. 1 each developed its own products: Keep reading>>

Will President Obama mention mHealth in his SOTU address?

By: Brian Dolan | Feb 12, 2013        

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Peter Hudson, CEO, iTriageFirst Lady Michelle Obama personally invited Dr. Peter Hudson, the co-founder and CEO of iTriage, to sit in her viewing box as “a distinguished guest” for President Obama’s State of the Union Address tonight.

Aetna acquired iTriage for an undisclosed sum in 2011. 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 device.

In an email to MobiHealthNews, Hudson said that he will be seated with Ms. Obama, Dr. Biden, Apple CEO Tim Cook, and Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber. “President and First Lady Obama included iTriage in the esteemed list of guests to underscore the importance of the seven priorities outlined in his inaugural address, including innovation, reducing debt and job creation,” Hudson wrote.

While Hudson did not provide any indication that iTriage or Aetna would be specifically mentioned in the president’s speech tonight, it would not be the first time that the White House honored iTriage.

In August 2012 the White House launched a new program, the Presidential Innovation Fellows program, which paired the private sector, academia, and non-profits with people from the government to work on innovation projects. One of those projects is The Open Data Initiative, which former HHS CTO Todd Park helped launched during his tenure at HHS. Since he succeeded Aneesh Chopra as CTO of the federal government last year, he aims to bring Open Data Initiatives to other sectors as well.

At that event last August, to illustrate the success of ODI, Park pointed to Hudson and iTriage, which makes use of some freely available government data sets to offer its symptom navigator and care facility locator service. Park said his goal was to “clone” Hudson and iTriage.

“So, what’s the play?” Park said at the time. “What is the Open Data Initiative’s play exactly? Clone Pete Hudson. That is the play. Clone this story. And, very specifically, clone the actual use of the data — the application of the data by American entrepreneurs and innovators — to create real benefit in people’s lives. Help people to find the right doctor that could save their life.”

Will President Obama mention mobile health tonight? He has done it before — his 2011 SOTU mention mobile video consultations. There seems to be a very good chance that he will again tonight. We’ll update if and when he does. (UPDATE: No mention of iTriage or mHealth during the SOTU. President Obama did give a nod to the only other businessman invited as a distinguished guest: Apple CEO Tim Cook. Hudson was visible for a few seconds when the First Lady first entered the her viewing box — watch the CBS News footage and look for Hudson here.)

MobiHealthNews readers weigh in on direct-to-consumer

By: Brian Dolan | Feb 12, 2013        

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Brian Dolan, Editor, MobiHealthNewsMobiHealthNews Contributing Editor Neil Versel really hit a nerve last week when writing about direct-to-consumer healthcare and the acquisition of Massive Health by fitness device maker Jawbone. (Be sure to read it now, if you haven’t yet.) While his column made a number of provocative comments, I think this one really gets to the heart of his argument: “What those projects all have in common is that they never figured out some of the basic realities of healthcare. Fitness and healthcare are distinct markets. The vast majority of healthcare spending comes not from workout freaks and the worried well, but from chronic diseases and acute care. Sure, you can prevent a lot of future ailments by promoting active lifestyles today, but you might not see a return on investment for decades.”

So many companies and startups working in mobile and digital health today are working to bridge the divide between “fitness” and “healthcare” and move more toward a healthcare system focused on preventive care. And yet, a number of MobiHealthNews readers agreed whole-heartedly with Neil’s assessment. Here were some of my favorites:

Betsy Bennett, Ph.D: As a health psychologist with a lot of years in pharma and healthcare, I am continually frustrated with the hype that accompanies most “health apps”. Not everyone enjoys computer games, not everyone wants to “share” the issues they’re ashamed of with their “social network”, not everyone is interested in being a “quantified self”. This is not to say that digital health is futile or a bad idea. But if we took the time to understand why so many doctors hate EHRs and patients are not interested in paying to “manage their health information” (What does that mean, anyway?) we would come a long way towards finding digital interventions that people actually want to use.

D Zar: Neil, a belated thank you for saying in public what I’ve been saying to anyone who will listen. There is a secondary problem, however; with all of the hype and land-grab going on, millions of investment dollars are going into consumer apps and not into truly revolutionary, or at lest evolutionary, medical products in the “digital health” landscape. I’m involved with, and friends with many other, companies who are really trying to do some interesting things, but since we’re not a consumer app to make people healthy, we get shut out of the funding. No matter that all are doing things with demonstrated clinical needs; since we sell to health professionals, we have a hard time convincing investors to give us a chance.

Civisisus: Love you, Versel, and good call on Massive Health’s massive fail, but this: “Massive Health, Google Health, Revolution Health and Keas never came to grips with the fact that healthcare is unlike any other industry. In the case of Google and every other “untethered” personal health record out there, it didn’t fit physician workflow. That’s why I was disheartened to learn this week that one of the first two development partners for Walgreens’ new API for prescription refills is a PHR startup called Healthspek. I hate to say it, but that is bound to fail unless Walgreens finds a way to populate Healthspek records with pharmacy and Take Care Health System clinic data…”

Needs more work. First, there is no “healthcare industry”. It’s a thousand (several thousand?) industries under a handy if relatively useless label – much like “the” tech industry. To do something useful, no one needs to “come to grips” with either. Second, PHRs do not need to “fit physician workflow” to succeed. To succeed, they need to be useful for people. They are not “Physician” Health Records, they’re PERSONAL Health Records. If anything, physicians need to provide data THEY trust TO PHRs, and PHRs should be ready to grapple with whatever output physician systems can manage (that they SHOULD be able to output – AND take in – useful data in practically any form, because there is no genuine technical barrier to doing so, we will save for another rant…).

There are already fairly practical personal health information resources functioning, if not flourishing, not far beyond the glare of the spotlights on clown shows like Massive Health. People need to develop basic information habits, and to have basic information expectations to which the traditional, conventional, backwards, legacy health care services providers must eventually succumb. Developing those habits takes time and the availability of handy examples, and working models. Healthspek may not be “it”, but it might help move things closer to “it”, if for no other reason than that in it, people have another “it” to draw comparisons with – favorable or unfavorable.

Anne DeGheest: Very nice article. Because of the “perceived” land grab, most of the new DTC startups are rushing into developing their product and getting it to the market quickly….and risk failure because they did not spend enough time defining the problems they are trying to solve and understanding the value proposition of ALL the players involved (including existing healthcare providers and payers)…therefore they encounter a value proposition and revenue model problem… in a very visible way.

Jim Bloedau: Neil, great piece. Who likes consuming healthcare? Nobody. How many providers have you heard say they wish they could spend more time in the office? Never. Because of this, the industry’s growth has been predicated on the idea that somebody else will do it all for me – employers will provide insurance and pay for it, doctors will provide care. This is also the driver of the traditional business model for healthcare that many pundits label as a “dysfunctional healthcare system.” Actually, the business of healthcare has been optimized as it has been designed – as a volume based business and is working very well. Your prospective fit this well and is not cynical, just experienced. Keep it up.

Cynical: Well written. This is one of the few columns (or rants) that actually understands the reality of healthcare and digital health (attending any health care conference will also highlight this divide). What I am finding is two fold:

1. The vast majority of these DTC products are created by people who have had success in other areas of “digital” – and therefore they build what they know – consumer facing apps / websites that just happen to be focused in health. They think that healthcare is huge ($$), broken, and therefore easily fixed using the same principals applied to music, banking, or finding a movie. But they have zero understanding of the “business of healthcare”, and as a result have no ability to actually sell their products into the health care industry – one of the slowest moving, convoluted, and cumbersome industries in the world.

2. Almost none of these products have any clinical knowledge closely integrated — many have a doctor (entrepreneur) on the “advisory board”, but in most cases there are no actual practicing physicians involved (physician founders are often still in med school, only practiced for a limited time, or never at all). This results in two problems – one of which the author notes – no understanding of workflow; the other being no real clinical efficacy for the product — meaning, they do not actually improve health, improve efficiency, or lower cost. Any physician will be able to lament the issues of self-reported data…

Instead of hanging out at gyms or restaurants building apps for diets or food I would recommend digital health entrepreneurs hang out in any casino in America around 1pm any day of the week – that is your audience. And until your product tests well with that group, you have no real shot.

Read on for a few reactions from Twitter: Keep reading>>

Prediction: If it exists, Apple iWatch will integrate Nike FuelBand

By: Brian Dolan | Feb 12, 2013        

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The Nike+ Fuel Band

While rumors of a wrist-worn Apple device — an iWatch — have circulated for some time, this week those rumors gained a little more credence following anonymously sourced reports in both The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal. The Times stated that “Apple is experimenting with wristwatch-like devices made of curved glass, according to people familiar with the company’s explorations.” The WSJ wrote that the company “is experimenting with designs for a watch-like device that would perform some functions of a smartphone, according to people briefed on the effort.”

The Times has a few more interesting bits of circumstantial evidence — hardly compelling — but worth noting: Apple CEO Tim Cook is a fan of the wrist-worn activity tracker Nike FuelBand and Apple’s SVP for Technologies Bob Mansfield is “engrossed by devices” that share information “back and forth from the human body to the phone, including the Nike FuelBand and Jawbone Up.”

Let’s pretend for a moment that the iWatch rumors are true.

Like many of us, Cook and Mansfield only have two wrists — do you think they want to wear two different wearable devices? Given Nike’s longstanding relationship with Apple — Nike+ is embedded in Apple’s smallest iDevices now — it seems much more likely that Apple will partner with Nike to integrate much of the FuelBand’s functionality into an iWatch. Nike has taken a platform approach to its Nike+ efforts and it seems likely that Apple will want to continue to support its partner in fitness should it move into its territory with a wristworn device.

Wristworn devices were everywhere at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show, as health economist and Health Populi blogger Jane Sarasohn-Kahn aptly pointed out earlier this year. MobiHealthNews rounded-up a number of the wristworn activity trackers in our CES slideshow last month. Besides the two high-profile ones Apple executives are apparently fans of, a number of devices aim to take the place of the once popular wrist watch: Basis Band, Fitbit Flex, Fitbug Orb, Spree, Pebble Watch, Mio Alpha, and Amiigo — among them.

There are so many companies with fitness-focused bracelet devices angling for marketshare now — and, so far, Apple isn’t. Will Apple launch an iWatch that beats them all to the wrist?