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Amiigo Is A Fitness Bracelet (Plus App) That Knows What Type Of Exercise You’re Doing — And What It’s Doing To You

Amiigo Is A Fitness Bracelet (Plus App) That Knows What Type Of Exercise You’re Doing — And What It’s Doing To You | Health Innovation |
There’s no shortage of fitness apps to track how much (or how little) you’ve been shaking your tail feather lately — such as MyFitnessPal, Endomondo and GAIN Fitness to name three we’ve written about lately. And if you don’t want to strap your phone to your arm and baste it in sweat, there are even a few dedicated fitness-friendly gizmos, such as Apple’s Nike + iPod in-shoe system, Nike’s Fuelband wristband or Motorola’s MotoACTIV. But none of these devices are especially intelligent — they tend to track total steps, distance, calories, and that’s about it (unless you start adding additional accessories such as heart-monitor chest straps).


Enter Amiigo: a fitness app and lightweight plastic bracelet (with detachable shoe-clip) that can identify the type of exercise you’re doing and tell you how well you’re doing it as you’re doing it, thanks to a variety of sensors analysing how your body is responding as you run, bike, swim (yes it’s waterproof), or whatever your preferred exercise poison.


Amiigo’s gesture-based software algorithms identify the different types of exercises you’re engaged in — and should improve over time as the software learns more about your movements, according to the startup. Having both a bracelet and a shoe clip helps its system distinguish between a pull-up and a bicep curl, say, although you don’t always have to wear both. To generate real-time fitness data, the hardware includes a variety of sensors that track variables such as your heart rate. The device includes motion sensors/accelerometers to track how you’re moving, plus an infrared sensor to monitor blood oxygen levels. The bracelet also incorporates a stainless steel plate to measure skin temperature.


Then the corresponding Amiigo iOS and Android apps allow you to view the data, set fitness goals and custom challenges, share workouts in real-time (which won’t be at all annoying…) and accrue fitness points for bragging rights and/or the chance to redeem them against discounts on fitness gear.


The startup reckons no one else in this space is doing gesture recognition to track activity type and response in such granular detail — at least not using just one main wearable device — which in turn allows it to provide detailed feedback via the app in order to act as a virtual personal trainer.


The startup is kicking off an Indiegogo on October 29 with the aim of raising $90,000, and hopes to be ready to ship in April 2013. First taker backers will be able to snag the device for an extremely tasty price of $89, after which it will be sold for $119 — which is still pretty neat considering it undercuts some of Amiigo’s less-capable competitor devices.


Also neat: Amiigo will be releasing an SDK for the device so app makers can explore additional uses. The startup tells me it could envisage various alternative use-cases for the hardware, such as enhanced patient care monitoring or chronic care monitoring, or — tapping up the Wii-style motion sensors inside Amiigo — even gaming scenarios.


The startup has been working on the device for around 10 months so far — with a core team of four, including “tech talent” from MIT.

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Proteus puts body-monitoring chips into pills

Proteus puts body-monitoring chips into pills | Health Innovation |

Health care is moving beyond science fiction, and Proteus Digital Health Inc. is leading the fantastic voyage.

The Redwood City company won Food and Drug Administration approval in July for an itsy-bitsy stomach-fluid-activated device — the size of a grain of sand — that is embedded in medicine and gives real-time information on how the drug is taken up in the body. The device also records heart rate and other essential data that can help ensure that medicine is working as it should.

The “digital pill” from Proteus could revolutionize the way patients take their medicines, said Dr. George Savage, ...

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Ingestible sensor promises adherence insight

Ingestible sensor promises adherence insight | Health Innovation |
The FDA has given new meaning to the term inside scoop, with the approval of an ingestible medical sensor earlier this month from Proteus Biomedical. While the tool's medication-tracking capability conjures up a Big Brother approach to treatment adherence, Proteus' co-founder George Savage insists it's not going to punish patients for missing a dose. Or two. Or eight.


"The rationale for doing this is not to scold patients for being imperfect,” Savage told MM&M. “Not one of us is perfect, that's the point.”


The sensor, which the company describes as about the size of a grain of sand, can be buried within a pill. Upon ingestion, it sends signals to a petite, water-resistant patch worn by the patient. Once the patch receives its signal, information is wirelessly uploaded to anything Internet, including mobile phones, laptops and tablets. A password keeps the information private, and interested parties can log in and see how a patient's actual daily medication habits match up with the prescribed ones.


With a hard copy of the compliance record in hand, a clinician or caregiver can see just how a patient may be sticking with a regimen. Savage said this information could provide a critical talking point for doctors, which is, “Why haven't you been taking your medications?” If the answer is an unlivable dosing schedule, the solution could be as easy as changing the dose so it is livable.


The information, which the firm describes as a digital health feedback system, provides a valuable opportunity for follow-through. It could turn out that the right medication has been prescribed but is ineffective because of inconsistent use. Or, if a new dose shows a higher adherence rate, but a patient still feels poorly or isn't improving, the data could signal a problem with medication choice.


The feedback, added Savage, is “primarily for patients and the people in the patient's social network, usually family members who are helping them deal with complicated illnesses.” From a personal perspective, Savage said the Proteus system would be a way for him to see how he could help his mother, who lives too far away for a drive-by visit, and says the current lack of daily insight means, “I have no data, no tools, no help...I have to be there in person.”


The company is not yet targeting specific illnesses, but the system could be invaluable for patients with complex dosing regimens, as well as those with conditions for which poor adherence is common, such as bipolar depression, schizophrenia and Alzheimer's disease. In such instances, he said, caregivers could log into the health records and call patients to tell them they need to take a pill.


The first launch of the sensor/patch combination is slated for September, when Proteus introduces the system in the UK, where it was approved in 2010. The company has approval there for a two-pill approach -- a blister pack in which one pill is the medication itself and the other pill contains the sensor. (Savage said that some clients, including Novartis and Otsuka, are looking into the feasibility of one-pill approaches to embedding the sensor within their medications.)


The pill combinations will be offered through the UK-based Lloyd's pharmacy chain and will focus on patients who are taking multiple medications, as opposed to treating a particular condition. Savage said this will mean the majority of the patients will probably be elderly who are living alone, or at least independently, as opposed to in a group medical setting.


Savage said he is not sure when the technology will roll out in the US, and was not able to put a price on how much the sensor system could tack onto a prescription. He did, say, however, that it will be offered on an opt-in basis, so that patients can request to have medications with or without sensors, and can bypass what he expects will be a monthly fee for the tracking service.


He doesn't envision third-party payers picking up the tab but hopes that the added insight could be enough to convince patients and their care networks to adopt it. “This is a tool of individual empowerment.”

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Changing the face of Health Activism through Technology

Changing the face of Health Activism through Technology | Health Innovation |
WEGO Health would like to extend a big thanks to Nate Osit for hosting this week’s #HAChat focusing on the power of Health Technology. Nate describes himself as “just your average Health IT geek” and we couldn’t think of a better Health Activist to lead an engaging discussion about technology’s impact on Health Activism.


Produceconsume: #HAchat Tech moves health activism out from behind the curtain. Reveals what can be done.


Technology has had an incredible impact on healthcare in terms of the connections it has fostered within patient communities. Patients can connect with others living with their condition across the globe. Patients with conditions such as Cystic Fibrosis can form relationships where they cannot in real life (IRL). The internet has given patients the power of anonymity – allowed people to reach out to others without fear of discrimination and stigma that is all too common in society. And while these connections are being made, information is being generated and shared all over the virtual world, building a vast library that is available at the click of a mouse. All of these conversations that we’re having – every blog post, Facebook note, or forum discussion is adding to a collective set of knowledge from which we can all benefit. The availability of information via technology puts patients and the healthcare industry on more even ground. While you still may not have the knowledge of your doctor or physician, you have access to information that will allow you to engage in a dialogue with your doctor or your healthcare team, rather than a one-sided conversation.


Technology has expanded the reach of Health Activism. While there have been IRL support groups and walks for many years, these events are largely local, serving only the small population that can take advantage of them. Technology has amplified the reach of Health Activists; it has turned bloggers into nationally recognized advocates, authors, speakers, and more. It has given the patients the platform to voice their concerns, and to know that instead of getting lost in the din of the crowd, someone else is listening to what they have to say. Technology didn’t create Health Activists, but it certainly opened the door for the patient empowerment movement happening in our country today. Technology also enhances our ability to connect in real life as well. It allows us to organize events, support groups, advocacy organizations, walks, meet-ups, tweet ups, etc. It allows us to be at events and conferences that we couldn’t attend IRL.

Finally, the simplest technology can make the biggest difference. When people think of technological innovations and how they have changed healthcare, your mind (or at least mine) jumps to robots that perform surgery and all of the latest diagnostic devices. Having “cutting edge” equipment is the goal of any hospital since it allows doctors to perform more specialized procedures, better detect disease and hopefully provide patients with better care. However, what we consider today to be basic technology continues to have the biggest impact. When we think back to the beginning of the internet days, the coolest thing ever was being able to talk with friends with the click of the button. Chat rooms, though creepy, were the beginning of modern online patient communities. Even some of the largest communities today don’t have a super fancy interface or many special features. The reason people visit the community isn’t to experience the latest and greatest in health tech, it’s to talk to other patients and people in their position. Though certainly not a simple innovation at the time, we should take the time to remember that this open line of communication is what continues to be the foundation of Health Activism and our greatest tool as Health Activists.


Additional thoughts, questions or concerns? Email us at and don’t forget to join WEGO Health and other Health Activists for our #HAChat every Tuesday at 3 PM ET.

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Epic Challenge: What The Emergence of an EMR Giant Means For the Future of Healthcare Innovation

Epic Challenge: What The Emergence of an EMR Giant Means For the Future of Healthcare Innovation | Health Innovation |
Medicine has been notoriously slow to embrace the electronic medical record (EMR), but, spurred by tax incentives and the prospect of cost and outcomes accountability, the use of electronic medical records (EMRs) is finally catching on.


There are a large number of EMR vendors, who offer systems that are either the traditional client server model (where the medical center hosts the system) or a product which can be delivered via Software as a Service (SaaS) architecture, similar to what did for customer relationship management (CRM).


Historically, the lack of extensive standards have allowed hospital idiosyncrasies to be hard-coded into systems. Any one company’s EMR system isn’t particularly compatible with the EMR system from another company, resulting in – or, more fairly, perpetuating – the Tower of Babel that effectively exists as medical practices often lack the ability to share basic information easily with one another.

There’s widespread recognition that information exchange must improve – the challenge is how to get there.


One much-discussed approach are health information exchanges (HIE’s), defined by the Department of Health and Human Services as “Efforts to rapidly build capacity for exchanging health information across the health care system both within and across states.”


With some public funding and local contributions, public HIE’s can point to some successes (the Indiana Health Information Exchange, IHIE, is a leading example, as described here). The Direct Project – a national effort to coordinate health information exchange spearheaded by the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT – also seems to be making progress. But the public HIEs are a long way from providing robust, rich and sustainable data exchange.


In their stead, private HIEs – serving collections of collaborating hospitals and providers — seem to account for the lion’s share of growth in the HIE space. In particular, one company – Epic (discussed recently by Forbes colleague Zina Moukheiber here) – seems to have emerged as top dog in the large hospital space, winning contracts from most of the nation’s most prestigious centers, and many of the nation’s largest; a deal with Boston powerhouse Partners Healthcare was recently announced. (Another leading EMR contender, Cerner, is profiled this week by another Forbes colleague, Matthew Herper.)


Notably, Epic is built on a traditional client server model, and does individual, customized installations for each client; a reputation for near-flawless implementation — derived by tightly constraining how much idiosyncracy is engineered in each install — has been a prime driver of growth. While Epic systems seem to be able to communicate with other Epic systems with relative ease, communication outside of Epic seems more problematic.


The ambulatory practice space, on the other hands, appears to remain highly fragmented and largely up for grabs, as a number of competing companies – particularly SaaS-based approaches such as AthenaHealth, PracticeFusion, and eClinicalWorks seek to gain traction.


Add to the mix the observation that medicine is undergoing a general consolidation, as solo practices and small practices increasingly find themselves in the arms of larger hospital systems, which are also merging. No wonder so many practices are still reluctant to adopt EMR given all the uncertainty (why buy or upgrade a system if we are going to sell the practice?) and confusion (which system to buy given the cacophony of brands, acronyms and regulations we don’t understand).


So how is all this likely to play out? The first question, as we see it, will be whether Epic, essentially a private system, will be able to dominate the EMR space (hospital and outpatient) before alternatives – likely utilizing SaaS and leveraging an expanding array of national interoperability standards, can gain traction; the second question is what are the likely consequences of Epic winning – and of Epic losing.

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New sleep-monitoring device uses Irish med tech

New sleep-monitoring device uses Irish med tech | Health Innovation |
Technology developed at NovaUCD by BiancaMed, a division of the California company ResMed, is being used in a new wireless sleep-monitoring device that Omron Healthcare has just launched in the Japanese marketplace.


BiancaMed itself was originally established by Dr Philip de Chazal, Dr Conor Hanley and Prof Conor Heneghan to commercialise research undertaken in UCD's School of Electrical, Electronic and Communications Engineering.


Last July the company was acquired by ResMed, the San Diego-headquartered developer of systems to diagnose, treat and manage sleep-disordered breathing, such as sleep apnoea and snoring.

All three co-founders are still with the ResMed BiancaMed division at NovaUCD.


Omron Healthcare, a partner of BiancaMed, has just launched is a new wireless sleep monitoring device, which uses BiancaMed technology to offer wireless, non-contact sleep monitoring in Japan. The device also connects to healthcare support services in Japan.


The device's non-contact sensing technology apparently measures sleep throughout the night and can report sleep quality metrics.


"Insufficient sleep in itself may be an indicator of another underlying problem, sleep-disordered breathing, which is known to cause and negatively impact heart disease, diabetes, stroke and, more recently, cancer," said Hanley, the managing director of ResMed BiancaMed division at NovaUCD.


BiancaMed employs 35 people at its NovaUCD base.

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A Brief Peek into the Future with Dr. Michio Kaku

A Brief Peek into the Future with Dr. Michio Kaku | Health Innovation |
You never know who is going to sit next to you on an airplane. Usually it’s just someone who wants to read his newspaper and sip ginger ale in peace. But then there’s the rare instance when you happen to be seated next to one of the world’s best known living scientists.


Such was my luck earlier this week on a flight back from New York, when I was stunned to see Dr. Michio Kaku stowing his carry-on over my head before taking his window seat.


If you don’t know who Michio Kaku is, all you have to do is turn on almost any Science Channel or Discovery show about space exploration, black holes, worm holes, or technologies of the future. Or you could pick up one of his seven bestselling books, like his latest New York Times Bestseller, Physics of the Future. Or tune into his weekly national radio programs, Science Fantastic and Explorations in Science.


If you want to know what makes a science writer off-the-chain happy, it’s chatting with a world class scientist for two hours and change, with drinks and snacks to boot. Aside from being a brilliant theoretical physicist, Dr. Kaku is also a heck of a nice guy. He graciously gave me more ideas than my pen could catch, any of which would be a substantial article on its own. I’ll just run the highlight reel for now.


One of the most intriguing items he mentioned is the research effort underway in Japan to photograph dreams. Dr. Kaku described this as “doable” and thinks it’ll eventually happen. The idea is that brain activity in the visual center of the brain can be read and captured as pixels on a screen. In dream state, the brain’s visual center is excited, producing an abundance of images that are theoretically ripe for the capturing.


Dr. Kaku explained that it’s already possible to translate simple images this way. Say, for example, you envision the letter U. The brain activity associated with holding this image in mind can be captured via nodes attached to your scalp and translated into individual pixels that will eventually resemble a U. The technology is still a bit clunky at this stage, but the underlying science is sound. One day we will hear of the first photographed dream and we’ll have an entirely new wrinkle in the privacy debate to iron out.


Dr. Kaku also discussed a recent step forward in brain-interface technology. For the first time, a sub-cranial interface is enabling epileptic patients to pick out individual words on a screen simply by thinking about them. Previously it was possible to move a cursor around the screen this way, but never before has the technology enabled precise selection of words. This advance brings us one step closer to a brain prosthetic for instantly communicating by merely thinking.


Stephen Hawking, a colleague of Dr. Kaku’s, uses a single-channel brain interface device called iBrain to communicate via brain waves, though it isn’t sub-cranial. Lou Gehrig’s disease has rendered Hawking almost completely unable to move any part of his body. Brain interfaces could one day change the lives of those with similar medical conditions.


We also chatted about judicial decisions on whether fMRI should be allowed as a lie-detection technology in court. This to me is truly scary, because the technology is not nearly far enough along to be used this way. If it’s allowed, brain imaging would become a legal crowbar for prosecutors and defense attorneys – an exceptionally bad outcome considering that neuroscientists themselves are still debating the usefulness of the technology.


For more with Dr. Kaku, check 0ut a great interview he recently did with The Wall Street Journal here. And his latest book is well worth your time.

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Don't worry be appy: DIY health the trend of 2012

Don't worry be appy: DIY health the trend of 2012 | Health Innovation |
THE rise and rise of health apps and tracking gadgets bodes well for wellbeing, writes Jennifer Dudley-Nicholson


It's the latest trend in hi-tech healthcare and it doesn't involve consulting Dr Google.


"DIY health" has been named as the second biggest trend of 2012 by, thanks to a surge in fitness apps, record spending in the category and an incoming wave of health gadgets that track your every move and vital sign.


These smart devices can now record more than just the number of steps you take and the calories you burn. They can also judge the quality of your sleep, record your blood pressure and test your blood sugar, uploading every detail to an app for mobile monitoring.


Healthcare and technology experts say the popularity of the category is set to grow exponentially this year, although they warn these apps are no substitute for professional medical advice.


Apple's App Store already houses more than 7700 health and fitness apps, and independent research firm Technavio estimates spending on these apps will reach $4.1 billion by 2014.


Furthermore, Research2 Guidance predicts 247 million smartphone users will download a mobile health app this year - almost double last year's audience of 124 million.


The popularity of these apps, the firm says, has been heightened by sensors attached to smartphones, many of which began to emerge late last year.


These gadgets include wearable devices that track users movements, like the Jawbone Up, FitBit Ultra, and Nike's FuelBand (reviewed right), as well as more serious medical devices.


University of Technology Sydney senior lecturer Dr Peter Leijdekkers, who founded the MyFitnessCompanion website and Google Android app, says the trend now encompasses serious medical instruments too, with smartphone connectivity added for convenience and easy monitoring.


"In the past these gadgets were standalone devices," Dr Leijdekkers says.


"If you had a blood glucose monitor, you had to write down your results in a book or type them into a spreadsheet. Nowadays a lot of these new devices have wireless communication - Bluetooth, ANT or wireless connections - and their results can be added to a mobile phone."


Dr Leijdekkers says this is particularly important for people whose health conditions require constant monitoring, but the devices can increasingly be found in the hands of healthy people who simply want to improve their fitness.


It's a trend that has seen more than 5500 people download his MyFitnessCompanion app, for example, that compiles data from other devices.

"The line between medical and fitness gadgets is getting blurry," he says. "It depends on how you want to use them."


iWorld Australia director Aldrin DeClase says a series of health devices unveiled at the Consumer Electronics Show this January will arrive in local stores this year, further blurring the definition.

The iHealth Smart GlucoMeter, for example, plugs into the base of an iPhone, iPad or iPod and can be used to measure blood sugar.


"You just prick your finger, swab it and insert the swab into this device and it uploads the information to an app," DeClase says. "You can monitor your blood sugar levels and it can also give you alerts."

The device is due in Australia in September, as it is awaiting approval by health organisations.


Other health devices now on the market include blood pressure monitors that connect to smartphones, weight scales that wirelessly upload your statistics to an online database, and sleep monitors that provide details of deep sleep, rapid-eye movement and sleep disturbances.


The good news, Dr Leijdekkers says, is that all this monitoring can provide plenty of motivation for those who want to improve their health and fitness.

"You can compare it to watching your weight," he says. "If you are aware of your weight and you want to do something to change it then this sort of technology works."


Health-monitoring gadgets


iHealth Smart Glucometre
Due: September
How it works: Attaches to the base of an iPhone or iPad to measure blood sugar.


Withings Blood Pressure Monitor
Price: $179
How it works: Measures systolic and diastolic pressure and connects to an iPhone.


FitBit Ultra
Price: $95
How it works: Clip that monitors steps, incline, sleep and calories burnt.


Jawbone Up
Price: $95
How it works: is a wristband that measures movement and sleep.


Zeo Sleep Manager
Price: $95
How it works: is a headband to track sleep patterns.

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The 'living' micro-robot that could detect diseases in humans

The 'living' micro-robot that could detect diseases in humans | Health Innovation |
A tiny prototype robot that functions like a living creature is being developed which one day could be safely used to pinpoint diseases within the human body. Called 'Cyberplasm', it will combine advanced microelectronics with latest research in biomimicry (technology inspired by nature). The aim is for Cyberplasm to have an electronic nervous system, 'eye' and 'nose' sensors derived from mammalian cells, as well as artificial muscles that use glucose as an energy source to propel it.
The intention is to engineer and integrate robot components that respond to light and chemicals in the same way as biological systems. This is a completely innovative way of pushing robotics forward.


Cyberplasm is being developed over the next few years as part of an international collaboration funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) in the UK and the National Science Foundation (NSF) in the USA. The UK-based work is taking place at Newcastle University. The project originated from a 'sandpit' (idea gathering session) on synthetic biology jointly funded by the two organisations.


Cyberplasm will be designed to mimic key functions of the sea lamprey, a creature found mainly in the Atlantic Ocean. It is believed this approach will enable the micro-robot to be extremely sensitive and responsive to the environment it is put into. Future uses could include the ability to swim unobtrusively through the human body to detect a whole range of diseases.


The sea lamprey has a very primitive nervous system, which is easier to mimic than more sophisticated nervous systems. This, together with the fact that it swims, made the sea lamprey the best candidate for the project team to base Cyberplasm on.


Once it is developed the Cyberplasm prototype will be less than 1cm long. Future versions could potentially be less than 1mm long or even built on a nanoscale.


"Nothing matches a living creature's natural ability to see and smell its environment and therefore to collect data on what's going on around it," says bioengineer Dr Daniel Frankel of Newcastle University, who is leading the UK-based work.

Cyberplasm's sensors are being developed to respond to external stimuli by converting them into electronic impulses that are sent to an electronic 'brain' equipped with sophisticated microchips. This brain will then send electronic messages to artificial muscles telling them how to contract and relax, enabling the robot to navigate its way safely using an undulating motion.


Similarly, data on the chemical make-up of the robot's surroundings can be collected and stored via these systems for later recovery by the robot's operators.


Cyberplasm could also represent the first step on the road to important advances in, for example, advanced prosthetics where living muscle tissue might be engineered to contract and relax in response to stimulation from light waves or electronic signals.


"We're currently developing and testing Cyberplasm's individual components," says Daniel Frankel. "We hope to get to the assembly stage within a couple of years. We believe Cyberplasm could start being used in real-world situations within five years".

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By the Numbers: Flu Season, Visualized

By the Numbers: Flu Season, Visualized | Health Innovation |

Strains of seasonal influenza behave slightly differently season to season and strain to strain. The differences are revealing. The rate of transmission of the 1918 pandemic, which killed 40 million people, closely mirrors the data from the 2009 H1N1 pandemic. The two strains are, in fact, closely related. At the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), epidemiologists study the patterns of flu data from the current season against historic data. The comparison helps them make informed decisions about how to respond to the virus: what kind of vaccine to make, how to make it, and how and where to distribute it. As data sets improve, scientists will be able to better predict how future strains of seasonal influenza will spread.

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Monitoring Your Health With Mobile Devices

Monitoring Your Health With Mobile Devices | Health Innovation |
Dr. Eric Topol is only half joking when he says the smartphone is the future of medicine — because most of his patients already seem “surgically connected” to one.


But he says in all seriousness that the smartphone will be a sensor that will help people take better control of their health by tracking it with increasing precision. His book, “The Creative Destruction of Medicine,” lays out his vision for how people will start running common medical tests, skipping office visits and sharing their data with people other than their physicians.


Dr. Topol, a cardiologist at the Scripps Medical Institute in La Jolla, Calif., is already seeing signs of this as companies find ways to hook medical devices to the computing power of smartphones. Devices to measure blood pressure, monitor blood sugar, hear heartbeats and chart heart activity are already in the hands of patients. More are coming.


He acknowledges that some doctors are skeptical of these devices. “Of course, the medical profession doesn’t like D.I.Y. anything,” he said. “There are some really progressive digital doctors who are recognizing the opportunities here for better care and prevention, but most are resistant to change.”


Dr. Topol may be right about the caution in the industry, but he is far from the only person with this vision. Apple was promoting the iPhone as a platform for medical devices in 2009. An entire marketplace is evolving that marries the can-do attitude of hacking devices with the fervor of the wellness movement.


Smartphones make taking care of yourself more of a game, Dr. Topol said. “I recommend these devices because it makes it more fun and I get more readings than if I ask them to do it manually.”

The enthusiasm for this vision of do-it-yourself medicine with a smartphone, though, must be balanced with the cold reality that all of the experimenters should consult with their physicians.

Some of the attempts to turn the iPhone into a medical device are little more than toys. The 99-cent iStethoscope Pro app warns, “This app is intended to be used for entertainment purposes.” Those who have bought it have given it uniformly poor reviews.


The equally poorly reviewed iStethoscope Expert 2012, also 99 cents, offers a $24 bell to enhance the sound.


I experimented with a homemade otoscope, the device doctors use to look into the ears, connected to a smartphone so I could take pictures of a family member’s eardrums. My son has had infections in his Eustachian tube and the doctor likes to take a look. I figured that if I could take a picture or a video of the eardrum, I could save the trouble of him missing school to visit the doctor.


With the help of a little duct tape, I attached the phone to a small home otoscope from a company called Dr. Mom Otoscopes. It is just a lens, a light source and a plastic sleeve and sells for $27. To improve the image, I inserted a $20 close-up lens I had bought from


The biggest problem was in the software of the smartphone. The Apple camera app balanced the light and dark over the entire image, washing out the center so the eardrum was just a sea of white. The Android camera app offered the option of using spot metering so the light balance was better.


Despite all this fiddling with the optics and the software, the result was never very good. Better results require more than duct tape.


Firefly Global in Belmont, Mass., makes a medical camera and sells it directly to doctors who want to share the images with patients and save them for the future. Its line includes cameras for dentists, dermatologists and ophthalmologists. Unfortunately, the $180 to $350 cameras connect to a computer, not a smartphone.


The most prevalent diseases and the biggest markets are getting the tools first. Devices to monitor heart disease are already available.

A French start-up, Withings, has created a blood pressure cuff for $129 that connects to an iPad or an iPhone. The cuff will automatically inflate, deflate and then record the pulse rate and the blood pressure. The app will graph the pressure over time, making trends easier to see.


Withings also includes a connection to its Web site so users can share their data with their doctors either directly through their password-protected pages or through third-party sites like

The growing incidence of diabetes is by many estimates the biggest public health challenge today, so companies are developing tools to help people with the disease manage their blood sugar.

Tom Xu, the founder of SkyHealth in El Cerrito, Calif., created the Web site to help people keep track of the sugar in their blood. The numbers must be entered manually. The site works with an app for the iPhone to gather the blood glucose level and some information about when it was taken. “Our main goal of glucosebuddy is not to just record numbers. That’s the boring part,” he said. “Once you know how your diet affects your blood sugar, you take your health more seriously.”


Other companies are beginning to integrate the hardware and software. AgaMatrix, a company that makes a blood glucose monitor, iBGStar, that attaches to the iPhone, worked with Sanofi, the pharmaceutical giant, to develop the tool. In December, the Food and Drug Administration approved the device for sale in the United States.

“When patients are dealing with chronic conditions, you might see a doctor every six weeks or two months,“ said Joseph Flaherty, the senior vice president for marketing at AgaMatrix. “For people to have real command over these diseases, we need to close the feedback loop and give people the information they need to make smarter decisions in real time.“


Its tool, like many other pocket meters, measures the amount of glucose in the blood, but it also transfers the data to the smartphone, which helps patients to track their glucose levels over time. It is not much different from a piece of paper and a pen, but it is faster and cleaner, and it is easy to share these values with doctors and friends.

Johnson & Johnson has also spoken publicly about developing a similar device. The ultimate goal is replicating the full-body diagnostic “tricorder” from the “Star Trek” TV show, a goal that is being encouraged by a $10 million prize put up by Qualcomm, the smartphone chip maker, through the X-Prize Foundation.


Apps that simulate the lights and sound of the TV show prop are available from app stores.

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The Biggest Opportunity For Disruption Today: Health Care Products That Work

The Biggest Opportunity For Disruption Today: Health Care Products That Work | Health Innovation |
The holiday season may be over, but the time spent with friends and family may still be fresh. In all the gatherings, I would bet you had at least one conversation about health--your diet for 2012, a friend’s pledge to exercise more, Mom’s rehab from her surgery, Dad’s long list of medications. It is impossible to escape that time of year without thinking about health; whether you are fortunate to have good health, or hoping this year will bring it.


The good news is 2012 will be the year of good health--at least in the world of design and technology. Where I live in Silicon Valley, many people believe home health will be the next big boom. The Rock Health incubator is churning out a slew of startups that will help you manage your health, the iPhone 5 is expected to launch with a built-in heart rate monitor, and sick people everywhere will begin to look at health care more as consumers than as patients.


There is reason to be skeptical here. In the past few decades, people have cared deeply about health yet have continued to take lousy care of themselves. Let’s face it: Healthy people have always taken it for granted, and unhealthy people are often terrible patients. So what’s changing, and why is now the time for a metamorphosis in home health?


The answer comes down to two significant factors: (1) People are expanding their definition of “health” to include proactive wellness and ownership of treatment, and (2) There is a huge opportunity for designers to inject desire into this category. By the end of 2012, I believe the lines will blur between the health care, technology, and home products industries.



Health used to be something we worried about at home and solved at the hospital. The reality is more and more health care management is happening in the home, and that’s where many solutions actually belong. One of the biggest shifts in how we define “health” is our recognition that there are two distinct parts of the equation: wellness and medicine.


When it comes to wellness, or living a preventative lifestyle, Americans have been obsessed with losing weight since we started getting obese in 1990. But only in the last couple years have we actually started to care about full-body wellness. As an example, just look at the number of yoga studios and natural foods markets popping up throughout the Midwest and South. This movement is mainstream, not just for the hippies where I live. It represents a big shift: body weight to full-body wellness.


Compare that to medicine, or the treatment of a condition, where we used to think doctors were the only ones in control of our health. Now, with our health care system so messed up, we only go to the doctor when it is absolutely necessary--for procedures and prescriptions. And with that health care system incentivized to push patients out of the hospital as fast as possible, people are quickly learning to take recovery into their own hands. Access to medical information through resources like WebMD has forever changed the way we handle our health. This is another big cultural shift: responsible doctor to self-responsibility.



There is a massive opportunity for design and technology to make the difference in this $100 billion+ home health market. That’s not to say that the health care industry does not already have excellent designers and technologists in the ranks. However, there is a big opportunity to shift what those talented people are able to focus on.




All truly great designs balance three distinct characteristics; they are useful, usable, and desirable. Sadly, the home health industry is often missing a third of the recipe--desire. That’s because the ingredients that make a product or experience desirable are the easiest to dismiss; they’re not rational or quantifiable. Because home health takes its roots in the medical industry, it is historically practical and lacks personality. The truth is that there is good reason for a surgical tool to be mostly useful and usable, because all you really desire is for the darn thing to save your life. But home health products are used by regular people, and most do not have the instant impact of immediately saving your life. Products like these need the element of desire to stand any chance in a competitive consumer landscape.

I’m not just talking about aesthetics--emotion is what drives desire. We are constantly challenged to make healthy decisions in our daily lives, and many times the unhealthy alternative is driven by an emotional desire. What if the healthy choice was also the most desirable? What if the home health industry emphasized the same psychology of desire as the consumer electronics, gaming, and food industries? Designers and technologists have the power to relieve the burden of managing one’s health by repositioning it in a different context.

Stay tuned for my next post focusing on several specific areas for expanding home health.

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Can Design Get People To Take Their Meds?

Can Design Get People To Take Their Meds? | Health Innovation |
My mom called me crying recently. She’s 68 years old, overweight, inactive, and suffers from a litany of “old-age ailments” including high blood pressure, high cholesterol, borderline diabetes, arthritis, and hearing and vision limitations. Her situation probably sounds familiar to a lot of baby boomers and their kids.


[...] Over a few weeks, we did research, spoke with patients and caretakers, met with product vendors, and concluded that there were four main facets to the challenge:


1. Medical Getting-to-Know-You

How does my mom know when she’s supposed to take X, Y, or Z pill, or what meds she’s supposed to take on any given day? The truth is she doesn’t know for sure.

The good news is that a piece of pending legislation will require all prescriptions to be entered into a central database, which will be accessible by both the pharmacy and physicians. This way my mom’s various doctors will know what the others have prescribed from their respective hospitals and treatment conflicts can be avoided. As of now, this is completely invisible.


Private companies such as SureScripts are building the infrastructure that will centralize much of this critical information. But the bad news is that this useful consolidation of information has been stalled by the great U.S. health-care debate, so there are no guarantees if and when people like my mom will ever benefit from its technology.


At the same time, Google Health and Microsoft HealthVault have made significant investments in helping individuals keep track of their overall health records, including their medication summary. The problem is it’s currently the responsibility of the patient to enter and maintain this information. I know that my mom -- and many others out there -- won’t take the time to keep this current, even if she has a personal incentive to do so.


Unfortunately, lack of widespread adoption has already hurt one of the main players. Google announced in June that Google Health will be discontinued on January 1, 2012. So it’s still unclear which service will own responsibility for maintaining and accessing medical records in the long term. For the moment, people like my mom are still relying on handwritten notes in their purses when they visit the doctor’s office.


2. Sorting Through the Chaos

The act of sorting and storing daily dosages is an arduous task for just about everyone involved: patients, caretakers, and even pharmacists. While some independent pharmacists are still working the front lines of patient care and offering a variety of services, the macro trend for chain pharmacies is simply to drive the cost down to a point where there is no expectation of patient service whatsoever. At Walmart, $4 buys you a 30-day supply of most generic medications, leaving no margin for service.

The widely publicized ClearRX pill bottles from Target were a huge step in the right direction. Launched in 2005, ClearRX was a series of color-coded pill bottles with large, legible labels that made it easier for patients to keep track of what was inside each bottle. Target’s emphasis on patient care was well received by both the press and patients, boosting pharmacy sales significantly. However, six years later, ClearRX still represents a very small percentage of the 3.6 billion prescriptions filled each year.

The everyday challenge of getting pills out of the tamper-proof bottles and into the daily dosage case remains a laborious task, both physically and mentally. There is a gaggle of simple plastic tools, including several generic pill-counting trays, but most still require significant manual dexterity or keen eyesight. None of these would help my mom with her situation.


3. Keeping Track of the Pills

There are literally hundreds of pill storage containers available, but it’s hard to beat the generic four-by-seven compartment cases that you can find in any pharmacy across the country. They serve the basic purpose of pill storage and provide accurate confirmation of compliance: If the tray is empty, then you must have taken them -- even if you can’t remember.


Nevertheless, companies are providing alarms that remind patients when it’s time to take their pills (some with friendly but weird recorded voice messages). Some even incorporate data collection to confirm that pills were taken on a regular basis. Devices like MedSignals and Vitality Glo-Caps are good examples. But neither would help my mom; she takes multiple pills per day and wouldn’t have the patience or skill to program the system herself in the first place.


The fact is most patients who have settled into an active life with an illness don’t need to be reminded to take their pills at all. My mom has set up many resourceful reminder systems, such as putting her morning pills by the coffee maker and her evening pills on her night stand. She follows a well-practiced routine, and taking pills has become a regular part of her day.

The danger is what happens when that routine breaks down, which is what happened when my mom got pneumonia. She was thrown off her regimen. In these situations, friendly dosage reminders can help make sure nothing slips between the cracks. Sadly, one of the most common recommendations is an oversized wristwatch with bells, buzzers, and blinking lights that does nothing more than stigmatize the illness.


4. Communicating with the Doctor

Despite incremental improvements, the crux of the problem is still the same: When someone shows up at the hospital, the doctor has no way of knowing what medications the patient is currently taking. Health-care professionals are already overworked and held personally responsible for patient safety, so the idea of critical information like this floating in the cloud is perceived as a liability more than an asset.


Even if the patient brings in their crumpled piece of paper and tells the doctor that they have religiously been taking their meds (similar to telling the dentist that you’ve been flossing every day), doctors have no way to know whether the information is accurate. For example, my mom was taking two pills every day for her blood pressure, but she saw little improvement. After several revisions to the dosage, her doctor finally figured out that she was taking two pills each morning, rather than one in the morning and one in the evening. That one simple revelation about her dosing schedule had a tremendous impact on her treatment, and yet it took months to figure this out.

The MedSignals and Vitality devices have the potential to be useful ways to tracking medication and dosage -- assuming they are designed in a user-friendly way. And if the reports can be printed or viewed online, we can minimize the burden on the physician.


Pulling Together All the Pieces

There are several interesting technologies on the horizon, but we are far -- very far -- from having one cohesive system. So what would be the ideal scenario for my mom?

Let’s start by putting her four-by-seven container to bed. It would be replaced by a clever service provided by Medicine-on-Time, which allows local pharmacists to collate various medications into a single blister pack, grouped by day and time. While the cost of this service is approximately $20 per month, a recent study showed this service resulted in a 66% reduction in the likelihood that elderly patients need to be moved to assisted living facilities, which could save billions of dollars annually.


Then if Medicine-on-Time could be coupled with something like the RFID-embedded technology provided by CYPAK, which automatically records when a particular blister pack gets used, we would actually be getting somewhere. Mom’s compliance data could be viewed by her physician and her collective caretakers, not to mention the pharma and insurance industries.


Of course, once this kind of compliance data is in the cloud, there are lots of things we could do with it. At a basic level, a patient report that combines the Vitality compliance data with the SureScripts medication summary would be hugely beneficial. Then at a more advanced level, if my mom forgot to take her morning medications, she could get a discrete reminder text, email, or phone call, eliminating the need for redundant alarms and flashing wristwatches.


Naturally, all of this data could be visible to her physicians and our family. We could opt-in if we wanted to keep a closer tab on things. And perhaps the pharmacy can keep track of when my mom may be running low on her meds and automatically fulfill next week’s order.


But the big question still remains: Who will pull together all of the pieces? Is this the responsibility of the large health-care providers? Or perhaps the insurance industry? Or should we continue to hold our breath for the federal government to provide some specific guidance?

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Tomorrow’s people and the body of the future

Tomorrow’s people and the body of the future | Health Innovation |
A century ago, the design of 21st-century man was unimaginable to anyone but sci-fi writers, and even they didn’t go far enough. No one foresaw a species able to prevent pregnancy with a pill. Or able to snake a wire up an artery to restore bloodflow. No one anticipated the sub-species of “Real Housewives”—women bronzed in tanning beds, filled with silicone and injected with a poisonous toxin to smooth wrinkles.


Such interventions are but a prelude to the human-design innovation to come, predicts Juan Enríquez, founding director of Harvard Business School’s Life Sciences Project. We’ve been given glimpses of that future: the thriving field of regenerative medicine is using stem cells to regrow old organs—and build brand new ones. Cancer patients have received new windpipes built from their own cells; spinal columns are being augmented with polymers. At the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Edward Boyden’s lab has successfully downloaded a mouse’s memory to a computer, raising all sorts of possibilities for externalizing human memory. Scientists are isolating “high-performance” genes such as ACE, linked to the ability to adapt to high altitudes, and 577R, which is found in most Olympic power athletes. Meanwhile, neuroprosthetics are redefining “bionic man” with artificial limbs powered via little more than a bit of electric current and the person’s thoughts.


Man’s instinct to re-engineer is hard-wired, Enríquez says in an interview with Maclean’s. “We’ve transformed poisonous berries into beautiful heirloom tomatoes,” he says. “We’ve taken wolves and made them into various species of dogs; we’ve taken corn and made it a completely unnatural plant—grains the same size and colour.” And now, in making the human body itself the platform for innovation, we’re propelling the evolution of the species itself. In Homo Evolutis: A Short Tour of Our New Species, an ebook he co-authored with Steve Gullans, Enríquez writes that Homo sapiens have already evolved into “Homo evolutis,” defined as “a hominid that takes direct and deliberate control over the evolution of his species, her species and other species.”


The result, Enríquez says, will be an explosion of various species of varying genetic composition. And soon. Our children or grandchildren, he says, could take different enough biological forms from us to be considered another species entirely.


In conversation, Enríquez dials back his timeline slightly. “Though it takes centuries for entire species populations to separate, you are going to start to see clusters, looking like very different types of things.” The history of genetically modified food offers a model, he says: “Over 20 years, plant life in one place is completely different from another. Grain harvested in Canada is very different than grain harvested in parts of Europe.” New natural selection will hinge on money and government policy: “Some countries will veto procedures like stem cell and gene therapies; others will push for them,” he says. “And you’ll get every type of variety in between.”

Evolution isn’t linear, he says, noting we’ve been conditioned by the human timeline pioneered in Ernst Haeckel’s black-and-white silhouette drawings—“something climbing out of the primordial ooze that becomes a monkey, then a human, then a human sitting at a computer.” Rather, evolution branches like a tree. “You tend to get various versions coexisting,” he says, noting we’ve already seen 30 Homo sapiens iterations.


Thousands of loosely connected pieces are accelerating the process: “How we drug ourselves, the kind of information we put in our brain, what we eat, technology.” The rise in autism is an example. Enríquez theorizes it could stem from rapid evolution of the human brain, as the average person is barraged by more data in a day than people living a century ago absorbed in a lifetime.


The upshot will be societal shifts more seismic than those of both the industrial and digital revolutions, he predicts. As for specifics, he’s mum. “You have to be really arrogant to say, ‘I know what humans are going to be like in 500 years,’ ” he says. History shows that genetic flux influences societal values. Enríquez uses the example of blue eyes, which didn’t exist until 10,000 years ago, when they emerged by way of the Black Sea, resulting from a mutation in the OCA2 gene that turned off the mechanism producing brown melanin pigment. “If you told me 11,000 years ago that it turns out people are going to have blue eyes and it’s going to be really successful and get people modelling contracts and mates I would have said, ‘Ha!’ Which is totally wrong.”


One safe bet is hominids of the future being as smooth as seals, with character-defining scars a thing of the past. “The focus now is duplicating the capacity humans had in utero to heal without scars,” says Gail Naughton, CEO of San Diego-based Histogen Inc., and a pioneer in the tissue-implementation field. “Scarring is unwanted cosmetically, but medically, too, it’s very harmful in that it reduces the function of organs or bone cartilage...

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To Find Your Heart Rate, Stare At This App

To Find Your Heart Rate, Stare At This App | Health Innovation |

Your iPhone’s health monitoring capabilities just got a little more advanced. Cardiio, an app built by scientists from MIT, can quickly check your heart rate. All you have to do is stare at the phone--no touching required.


We first discovered Cardiio at Rock Health’s demo day, where the health startup incubator showed off the creations of its latest class. Like many of its Rock Health peers, Cardiio takes today’s technology (and ideas) one step further.


There are already apps that allow users to check their pulse by putting a finger over the iPhone camera, measuring changes in light intensity that correspond to blood pulses. Cardiio takes a similar tack--albeit one that’s more hands-off. The app measures the amount of light reflected off the face, which matches up to the amount of blood pumped into the face (every time the heart beats, more blood is pumped).


It’s simple to use: just stare at the app and wait for it to measure your heart beat. You can keep a running log of your heart rate at different hours and days. Cardiio also offers helpful statistics, revealing how your heart rate compares to an elite athlete and the average citizen. A lower resting heart rate generally indicates better physical fitness, though your heart rate may vary wildly throughout the day--according to the app, mine jumped from 59 to 81 and back down to 61 within the span of a couple hours.


In peer-reviewed literature, Cardiio’s heart rate measurements have shown to be within 3 beats per minute of a clinical pulse oximeter--the gold standard. That makes it more than accurate enough for non-medical uses (it’s not FDA approved).


Cardiio is available in the app store now for $4.99.

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Innovation in clinical trials Interview Dr Tomasz Sablinski

Innovation in clinical trials Interview Dr Tomasz Sablinski | Health Innovation |
According to the “2012 State of Global Open Innovation“, Forrester defines Open Innovation (OI) as:

“Innovation efforts that leverage external partners, ideas, or problem solvers to contribute to internal innovation initiatives.”

Transparency Life Sciences is the world’s first drug development company based on Open Innovation. The goal of the new start-up is “to develop medicines for significant unmet medical needs by acquiring promising drug compounds, designing studies via crowdsourced methods, and conducting those clinical studies with unmatched productivity.”

Here, Angela Dunn interviews Dr Tomasz Sablinski, the Founder and CEO of Transparency Life Sciences on crowdsourcing for Open Innovation and how, despite gaining momentum in other industries, it is new to drug development.

Although nascent, Open Innovation in drug development is forecast to have great potential, and Transparency Life Sciences and Dr Sablinski are at the forefront of this new revolution.
To listen to the full interview with Dr Tomasz Sablinski, download or listen via SoundCloud here.

Interview summary

AD: What are the challenges of crowdsourcing in the pharmaceutical industry, in designing your business model?

TS: The most important obstacle is cultural. Cultural barriers are very strongly present in pharmaceutical industry thinking. This is an industry that has very good intentions to innovate. But if you really think about the last 50 years – and I am specifically talking about clinical trials or clinical stages of drug development – if you compare how clinical trials were designed, conducted, analyzed and reported, 50 years ago and today, nothing has changed, and everybody recognizes that. There is a lot of innovation in basic science, in drug discovery. There is significant innovation in marketing, but the most expensive and longest, torturous stage – which is testing compounds in humans – has not changed. And the most important reason it hasn’t changed is cultural.

AD: How are you going to overcome these challenges and introduce a new model for clinical trials?

TS: If indeed the barrier is cultural, you can do two things. You can try to change the culture, and that doesn’t happen overnight… it doesn’t happen over a generation. The world is moving too fast to wait until the culture of big corporations changes. I tried that, and I realized that my lifespan is too short to see it happen.

“This is an industry that has very good intentions to innovate.”

The other way to do it is to take it outside of the current system and create – in small steps, because these are small steps in the beginning of a start-up company – a different culture alongside existing culture for how drugs are tested in humans. Taking many good practices from current existing systems, including regulations that govern it which, for the most part, are very good, and must exist. But on the other hand, open up completely to innovation that exists in other sectors – including social media knowledge building on the Internet.

You need to start creating not only a new business model, but a new culture. And that’s why we called the company Transparency Life Sciences. We didn’t go for any name that is not explicit. This is very explicit. This is done in a transparent way. Everyone who puts in his ideas and / or money will be able to see what we do with it, and be able to influence it, one way or another – including regulators, physicians, and the most important stakeholders, patients. Simple to say, but much more difficult to execute. Again, there are many regulations, many existing standard operating procedures that have to be respected. But that is how we are going about it.

“…the most expensive and longest, torturous stage – which is testing compounds in humans – has not changed”


AD: How are you finding patients to participate?

TS: In the first few months of opening up our website to the world, everything happened without spending any money or any meaningful effort on marketing. We had close to 10,000 unique visitors and several hundred registered users. About 150 made quite significant contributions in terms of ideas to our protocols. We didn’t look for them. We didn’t do any targeted campaign to the multiple sclerosis foundation or multiple sclerosis academic or professional society. It’s all word of mouth, all viral. And it’s obviously PR in that we were picked up by several industry media outlets – BioWorld, BioCentury, and others. So that certainly helped. But the majority of our contributors and registered users are, proportionately 3-to-1, patients vis-à-vis researchers. So patients learned about it by themselves, which just tells you there is tremendous energy out there from people who are very willing to donate their time and their ideas to this cause.


It’s in the early stages. We have plans to do much more structured marketing, targeting certain segments of Internet users who will be very interested in contributing and providing feedback. Our goal is to have more than 150 people contributing to each protocol. That is the potential of crowdsourcing.

AD: You have your own personal Twitter account, are open to new ideas and approaching social in the right way.

TS: Thank you. I am at an age where tweeting doesn’t come naturally like it does for my daughter. But I actually enjoy it, I enjoy it because it is so succinct. You don’t need to spend a lot of time, but you can get very useful contacts and feedback. It’s a lot of fun actually. We are testing our website for a better user experience right now – it’s going to be much more fun to participate in protocol challenges for both researchers and patients.

We put an imperfect first version on the web. A surprise to me and others, is that people actually voted with their fingers and are coming back. We are seeing a lot of repeat traffic – despite the fact that we realize our prototype is not very sexy at the moment. And we are working on enhancement.

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Prediction: A Shazam app for heartbeats

Prediction: A Shazam app for heartbeats | Health Innovation |

Soon enough people will be able to record a snipped of their own heart sounds, upload it to an analytics engine through a smartphone app, and receive a diagnosis. Sort of like a Shazam app for heart sounds.


That is, at least, according to Steinar Pedersen, Founder of Tromso Telemedicine Consult, who made the prediction — among many others — during his closing keynote Monday afternoon at the HIMSS mHealth Symposium in Copenhagen, Denmark. (I was honored to kick things off with an opening presentation on the mobile health landscape, but steered cleared of any prognostications.)


Shazam is a smartphone app that boasts more than 200 million downloads — it claims 1.5 million more download it each week — that helps people identify the music they hear. The idea is pretty simple: Hear a song at the mall or in the car and use Shazam to record a short piece of it and receive the artist, song, and album name. The app makes money a few ways but primarily by connecting users to various online music stores to buy the music they discover.

A Shazam app for heart sounds would work in a similar way except instead of using the smartphone’s microphone, users would use the smartphone’s camera, which can record heart rates via apps like Azumio’s Instant Heart Rate, or a peripheral medical device like AliveCor’s (not yet FDA cleared) iPhoneECG. Unlike Shazam’s database of (almost) all the world’s music, a repository of identified heart sounds that would be necessary to undertake a Shazam for the heart is not yet in existence.


Interestingly, cardiologist Dr. Leslie Saxon, who heads up USC’s Center for Body Computing, announced an initiative last month that aims to create just such a database. In a sense her hoped for database, dubbed, turns the Shazam model on its head. People will record their heart sounds and upload them to EveryHeartBeat, but early adopters may not receive much in return at first. Saxon told FastCompany that over time “there could be all sorts of abnormalities that EveryHeartBeat could pick up with relatively simple algorithms” including atrial fibrillation, which typically produces no symptoms. Saxon said the platform could enable “unbelievably predictive analytics across populations.”


During her TEDMED talk, Saxon referred to EveryHeartBeat as a “Facebook of Medicine”, but it seems much more like Shazam based on its core value proposition: What is this I’m hearing?

Saxon told MobiHealthNews during an interview this week that her team is in “super stealth mode” and cannot discuss details about EveryHeartBeat yet, but she has been floored by the amount of interest the project has already garnered — and the video of her TEDMED talk hasn’t event hit the Internet yet. She aims to launch the platform sometime in 2013.


A few years ago another group of researchers made headlines for discussing the potential of another big data project funded by a grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. As we wrote way back in November 2009:


“Health workers know the difference between a wet cough and a dry cough; between a productive or non-productive; and between a voluntary and involuntary cough. If one Bedford, MA-based start-up, STAR Analytical Services succeeds, soon health workers will be able to use their smartphones to diagnose patients by recording and automatically analyzing their coughs instead. STAR’s software would record a patient’s cough and compare it to a database of pre-recorded coughs that include the sounds of respiratory diseases from people of both sexes, and various ages, weights, etc. The database only has several dozen patients’ coughs on record right now, but they estimate they will need about 1,000 before the software becomes reliable.”


More recently apps that promise to help users determine whether moles and other skin growths were potentially harmful have hit appstores. Last summer we wrote about a startup in Romania led by two dermatologists that created just such an app, called Skin Scan:


“Skin Scan works by first taking a picture of a mole using the iPhone camera; the app then uses a proprietary algorithm to analyze the fractal-like shapes which exist in human skin. The algorithm then decides if the shape of the mole is developing normally, or abnormally into a potentially cancerous melanoma. Abnormal growth is noted to the user, and there is a feature to search for nearby doctors within the app.”


Overall this is a promising and long-anticipated trend: Big data and analytics are just starting to pair with the ever increasing number of mobile health devices, apps and sensors coming online.

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"Printing" pharmaceuticals with a 3D printer

"Printing" pharmaceuticals with a 3D printer | Health Innovation |

A Nature Chemistry paper by researchers from the University of Glasgow describes a process for "printing" pharmaceutical compounds from various feedstocks, and supposes a future in which we have diagnosis/medication manufacturies at home. The process uses an off-the-shelf 3D printer technology to assemble pre-filled "vessels" in ways that create the desired chemical reaction in order to produce medicines. It's a scaled-down version of the industrial process used to manufacture drugs in bulk, and the paper's principal, Prof Lee Cronin, calls it "reactionware." From the BBC:


"We can fabricate these reactionware vessels using a 3D printer in a relatively short time. Even the most complicated vessels we've built have only take a few hours.


"By making the vessel itself part of the reaction process, the distinction between the reactor and the reaction becomes very hazy. It's a new way for chemists to think, and it gives us very specific control over reactions because we can continually refine the design of our vessels as required.


"For example, our initial reactionware designs allowed us to synthesize three previously unreported compounds and dictate the outcome of a fourth reaction solely by altering the chemical composition of the reactor."


...Prof Cronin added: "3D printers are becoming increasingly common and affordable. It's entirely possible that, in the future, we could see chemical engineering technology which is prohibitively expensive today filter down to laboratories and small commercial enterprises.


"Even more importantly, we could use 3D printers to revolutionise access to health care in the developing world, allowing diagnosis and treatment to happen in a much more efficient and economical way than is possible now.


"We could even see 3D printers reach into homes and become fabricators of domestic items, including medications. Perhaps with the introduction of carefully-controlled software 'apps', similar to the ones available from Apple, we could see consumers have access to a personal drug designer they could use at home to create the medication they need."

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Mobile devices can reduce medical errors

Mobile devices can reduce medical errors | Health Innovation |

A study of nurses relying upon handheld devices found that 16 percent said the mobile equipment had helped them avoid at least one error in clinical treatment while another six percent indicated it had enabled them to avoid errors on multiple occasions.

Via Andrew Spong, dbtmobile
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Top 10 Health Innovations Of The Week

Top 10 Health Innovations Of The Week | Health Innovation |

Mobile App Rewards Users For Their Fitness Achievements



Kiip, a mobile application that offers real-world rewards for in-game achievements, has moved beyond gaming platforms with a new push to encompass the growing marketplace of fitness apps as well. In a move intended to help make achievements in non-gaming applications more meaningful, the updated application will reward users when they have achieved a “moment” within fitness applications. For example, if users log their run for the day in MapMyRun, they could get a reward from PepsiCo’s Propel Zero brand. The idea is to incentivize users through relevant brand-led rewards, creating more meaningful relationships between brands and consumers.


Electronic Skin Patches Monitor Health Wirelessly


Researchers at the University of Illinois have developed electric skin patches that can wirelessly diagnose health problems and deliver treatments. Developed to be a comfortable and functional system despite their small dimensions (about the width of a human hair), the patches can contain full-scale electronic circuits needed to monitor health status along with wireless capabilities that can be used to transmit data to the patient’s cell phone or the doctor’s office. The patches have the potential to eliminate the need for patients to stay attached to large machines in a doctor’s office or hospital room for hours of treatment or monitoring...

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Bionics: The next generation

Bionics: The next generation | Health Innovation |
A new generation of bionics which can connect wirelessly with the nervous system and feel are under development.


Animal tests have already been conducted in which devices are implanted directly into the nerve to process and transmit signals wirelessly to an external device.


Other researchers are developing prosthetic skin which might wrap around a bionic limb and feed back sensory information to the nervous system, in theory enabling users to detect and feel objects.


The current generation of bionic hands can pinch or grasp using two or more electrodes fitted inside the portion of the prosthetic which fits over the stump.

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These electrodes are positioned to pick up signals from the user's peripheral nerve system that are naturally amplified by muscles in the stump.

Progress is almost continuous. German company Otto Bock has developed a hand incorporating multiple electrodes which can drive wrist flexing and rotation.


While Scottish company Touch Bionics builds hands which use software to control individual finger movement, so that the hand can clasp around objects.


The surgical rewiring of nerves in an amputee can also offer a great deal, enabling those with no arm at all, for example, to drive bionic arms with elbow and hand movement.


But there are problems. Sweat on the skin or any movement in the prosthetic can disrupt the signal to the bionic limb. The prosthetics can also rub against the skin and cause discomfort and sores.


The next generation of bionics will try to overcome these problems and offer some sensory feedback to the user.


Wireless bionics

Researchers in Britain have already developed the Intraosseous Transcutaneous Amputation Prosthesis (ITAP), a rod screwed into the bone of an amputee onto which prosthetics can be fitted directly and securely, be they hands, legs or fingers.

The rod means higher loads can be carried than with traditional prosthetics which fit over the stump of an amputee like a glove. It also avoids friction between the prosthetic and the skin.


Neural interfaces would be embedded in nerve trunks to read and transmit signals
Scientists such as Prof James Fawcett, of the Cambridge Centre for Brain Repair, are meanwhile developing neural interfaces whereby prosthetics will communicate wirelessly with implants fitted directly into the nerve fibres in the stump.


"People have produced very sophisticated prosthetics which will do very sophisticated things, but in almost every case the thing that people are struggling with is to link it up successfully to the nervous system," he says.


"A lot of soldiers who have lost limbs apparently have given up using these devices and gone back to a simple hook, which at least is reliable.

"The device we're producing is for recording sensory impulses in a nerve and gets inserted into the limb nerve itself."


Once the device is inserted into the nerve, nerve fibres grow through it. Nerve signals associated with particular movements are then selected, and these signals transmitted wirelessly to a receiver in the prosthetic.


So far the device has been tested in mice and rats for up to 12 months. While the researchers do have some concerns that scarring within the device could strangle nerve fibres and disrupt signals, no such problems have been detected to date, says Prof Fawcett.


"We have a programme which will develop a prototype interface in about three years' time and that will then be taken forward through the legislature for human safety and toxicity trials," he predicts.


Researchers in Italy are also working on wiring bionics to the peripheral nerve system, and have already conducted trials in which electrodes temporarily connected to the nerves were used to drive an unattached prosthetic hand.


Prosthetic skin

Elsewhere, researchers are looking to make more responsive prosthetics with many looking to flexible electronics or "prosthetic skin" to do the job.

"We're looking into putting electronics onto surfaces that can be deformed, flexed but also stretched like a rubber band," says Stephanie Lacour of Switzerland's Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne.


"The idea with the prosthetic skin would be to have some kind of a glove like a latex glove which we could fit around the current prosthetic limb but that would be full of electronic sensor function that would mimic the sense of touch we have in human skin."

Eventually, such sensors might feed information back to the brain via neural interface devices, but in the meantime there are other options.


Andrei Ninu of Otto Bock shows the BBC's Neil Bowdler the firm's experimental prosthetic hands
Otto Bock are working on simpler devices whereby electronic sensors on a prosthetic detect information about objects and temperature which is fed back to the user via vibrations or pressure applied to the adjacent skin.


The surgical rerouting of sensory nerves in the stump (or chest muscles where an entire arm is replaced by a prosthetic) could enhance the effect, by creating areas of skin which feel what fingers would once have felt.


A new generation of bionics could also enhance the lives of individuals who are paralysed from the neck downwards or who have conditions like Locked-In Syndrome.


Last year, a paralysed US man made headlines after temporary electrodes placed on his brain were used to control a remote prosthetic hand which he used to stroke his girlfriend's hand.


Back in Switzerland, researchers are testing a thought-controlled wheelchair which uses electrodes placed on the skin in a skullcap to drive the chair.


Prof Fawcett says such machines will be "a very exciting technology for the future" but says there are big problems to overcome.


"The issue with electrodes which record from the brain is bandwidth. You can transmit very little information and it's slow.


"The electrodes also have to be very localised so you can only record from one bit of the brain and at the moment the electrodes are very unreliable and tend to produce inflammation and this stops the electrodes working.


"The other issue is that the electronics which you have to add are very complicated and you have to attach large structures to these skulls."

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Behind the Scenes of the World's First Live-Tweeted Open-Heart Surgery

Behind the Scenes of the World's First Live-Tweeted Open-Heart Surgery | Health Innovation |
Doctors at Houston’s Memorial Hermann Northwest Hospital made medical and social media history last month by live-tweeting an open heart surgery for the first time ever.


Dr. Michael Macris performed a double-coronary artery bypass on a 57-year-old patient. Meanwhile, colleague Dr. Paresh Patel provided 140-character updates throughout the procedure, and answered questions submitted by followers of the hospital’s @houstonhospital Twitter account. Dr. Macris also wore a video camera attached to his head. Dr. Patel snapped additional photos, and posted some of the pictures and videos to Twitter. The procedure lasted two and a half hours, and the patient made it through fine.


More than anything, though, the feat is a powerful example of social media’s ability to connect people and shed light on even the most unexpected activities. Its success is a lesson in using creativity and digital innovation to educate mass audiences.

“We’re always becoming more connected as a society,” says Gary Kerr, CEO of the non-profit Memorial Hermann Healthcare System’s Northwest Hospital. “Information can’t be contained anymore, and that’s the most positive thing about the Internet.”


Hospital staff expected a modest amount of attention, but were surprised to see the event blow up online. Natalie Camarata, Memorial Hermann Healthcare System’s digital marketing manager, told Mashable the event delivered an estimated 125 million impressions through Twitter, Storify and media coverage in the weeks following the operation.

Since the surgery, Mashable interviewed several of the people involved in the groundbreaking idea, asking them what it means that social media can be leveraged in new, effective ways. We spoke with Dr. Macris, Dr. Patel, Kerr, Camarata and Beth Sartori, a Memorial Hermann marketing and communications executive. What follows is their inside story.

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Medical Innovation and Safety: A Delicate Balance

Medical Innovation and Safety: A Delicate Balance | Health Innovation |

As we approach the November 2012 elections, there is an increasing amount of noise from politicians, pundits and talking heads on both sides of the aisle about major health care issues. Controversial and polarizing topics such as reforming Medicare and Medicaid, the Supreme Court’s review of Obama’s health care law, and the general fairness and legality of the individual mandate have come to the forefront of the national conversation many times in the presidential campaign.


And while these issues will certainly continue to be discussed and debated as we approach Election Day, it is important to understand the key challenges in the health care industry that lie beneath the noise.

The health industry is faced with the task of finding a balance between the desire to invest in the research and development of new medicines quickly and aggressively, and the need to ensure that safety is part of each step of every medical innovation and advancement. Unfortunately, there is no simple method, model or standard to bring new medicines to patients both safely and effectively.


The demand for investment in research and development of new medicines is greater than ever, as drug shortages have become a growing and critical problem in America. In 2011, there were a record-high 267 new prescription drug shortages. This is 56 more than in 2010 and more than four times greater than the number of medication shortages in 2004, when just 58 drug shortages were reported.


The worsening drug shortage problem impacts patient care, especially in hospitals, as chemotherapy, surgery and care for patients with pain and infections are disrupted as a result of a lack of critical medicines. The shortages have also delayed clinical trials and have led to extraordinary price extortion, causing many hospitals to have to pay extremely large markups for limited drugs.

The pharmaceutical industry has worked hard to proactively address this problem by working closely with FDA and supply chain partners to address disruptions, and by making continual investments in technology and manufacturing processes to improve quality control. However, many current shortages will not be resolved soon, due to key manufacturers that have had to shut down production because of contamination or other quality problems, or because certain medicines only have one other manufacturer, which lacks the capability to fill the gap.


Thus, while the pharmaceutical industry is taking great measures to address current drug shortages, they are also investing heavily in research and development, which helps lead to both medical advances and job growth.


Indeed, America’s biopharmaceutical research companies are working to help foster an environment conducive to the development of new treatments. More than 3,000 medicines were in development in 2011, and dozens of new drugs were approved by the FDA. 2011 marked one of the highest numbers of drug approvals in the past decade, and many of these new drugs reflect significant advances, including two new treatments for hepatitis C, a drug for lung cancer, and the first drug for lupus in 50 years. Seven medicines provide major progress in cancer treatments and almost half were judged by the FDA to be significant therapeutic advances for ailments such as kidney transplant rejection and heart attack.


This progress has been made in light of the daunting task that investing in such research and development has become. It is lengthy, expensive and risky. It takes 10 to 15 years for the initial discovery of the medicine to availability to patients, costs more than $1 billion for the development of a new medicine, and just two in ten approved medicines produce revenues that exceed the average research and development costs. In short, it is an enormous investment and commitment.

Yet despite these challenges, America’s biopharmaceutical research companies maintain committed first and foremost to patient safety. Throughout the entire process – from the initial stages, to the clinical trials, to after a medicine comes to market and even after the investors have long moved on to other things, these companies do not waver when it comes to safety. By striving for modern regulatory systems that evolve with science and development, safety is insured as innovation, the development of new medical technologies and the use of science to treat patients in novel ways continues to evolve.


As health care issues evolve and become more complex going forward, so does the need to balance research and development, safety, and investment in medical innovations.

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Your Next Prescription Might Be For A Microchip

Your Next Prescription Might Be For A Microchip | Health Innovation |
A few years from now, when your doctor prescribes a prescription for you, you might not get a bottle of pills. Instead, your drugs might be delivered under your skin, from a small microchip. At least, that’s the promise of a new invention by MIT researchers Robert Langer and Michael Cima, who worked with MicroCHIPS, Inc. to develop a microchip capable of delivering prescription drugs to patients. The chip, which has been in development for over a decade, just completed its first human test, which it passed with flying colors.


Here’s how the chip works. It’s implanted underneath the skin of the patients (who, in the study, reported that they often forgot it was there.) The chip contains tiny reservoirs that the drugs are placed into. The reservoirs are sealed with a layer of platinum and titanium. When a current is applied to the seal, it melts, releasing the drugs into the patient’s bloodstream. The microchips are programmable, as well, so that the drug delivery can be automated.


In the study, the implants were used to deliver a drug to treat 7 women between the ages of 65 and 70 who suffer from osteoporosis. In all seven cases, the chip delivered the correct dose of drugs to the patients, and no adverse side effects were reported.

This is a huge benefit for patients with chronic diseases that require daily injections because it automates the process, thereby improving compliance. Let’s face it – most people wouldn’t be thrilled with the thought of injecting themselves with a needle every day. By vastly improving the process, people’s health will benefit.


“Compliance is very important in a lot of drug regimens, and it can be very difficult to get patients to accept a drug regimen where they have to give themselves injections,” said researcher Michael Cima in an MIT press release. “This avoids the compliance issue completely, and points to a future where you have fully automated drug regimens.”


The other benefit of using the microchip is that it can be equipped with biosensors, which means that a doctor can monitor how effectively the drug is treating the disease, and remotely program the device according to adjust to changing circumstances. Right now, the device can only be reprogrammed remotely at very short distances, but the company and researchers are working on improving that aspect.


“This trial demonstrates how drug can be delivered through an implantable device that can be monitored and controlled remotely, providing new opportunities to improve treatment for patients and to realize the potential of telemedicine,” said study co-author Robert Langer in MicroCHIPS’ press release. “The convergence of drug delivery and electronic technologies gives physicians a real-time connection to their patient’s health, and patients are freed from the daily reminder, or burden, of disease by eliminating the need for regular injections.”


The next step for the company is to develop therapeutic regimens for the chip that can work with other diseases. The company intends to apply for regulatory approval to use the devices in 2014.

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The Future of mHealth: Putting Patients in the Driver's Seat

The Future of mHealth: Putting Patients in the Driver's Seat | Health Innovation |
Smartphones and tablets are transforming healthcare by shifting control to patients, but the evolution is not without its challenges.


The Future of mHealth is our series that explores opportunities and challenges of mHealth, which aims to put widespread access to healthcare within the reach of those who need it most.


Healthcare challenges are on the rise worldwide. Chronic conditions take an ever-greater toll, and costs are on the rise. But health insurance no longer bridges the gap for many, and healthcare systems struggle to balance the need for top-notch care and innovation against shrinking budgets.


Answering the challenge, many parties in the medical industry are ramping up development of apps and software for mobile devices, which may increase speed and ease the delivery of healthcare to patients who need it most, especially in areas like preventing diseases, managing chronic conditions, and navigating the complexities of the hospital and insurance systems. The payoff could be great, but the incorporation of mobile technology into the complicated healthcare system is not without its perils.


Motivation, Education, and Prevention on the Go


According to the Centers for Disease Control and prevention, conditions such as heart disease, stroke, diabetes, arthritis and cancer are the most common and costly health problems in the U.S.


Habits like smoking, a sedentary lifestyle, poor diet, high stress, or excess body weight increase risks for conditions like heart disease that threaten life and health. These diseases represent the largest concentration of healthcare spending, taking a huge toll on both well-being and wallets.


People can largely prevent or control these conditions, however, by instigating healthy changes and staying motivated to stick with them. Mobile health solutions can help consumers achieve this goal, bringing them a step closer to better health through education and motivation, and ultimately streamlining use of the healthcare system.


Apps such as MealSnap provide an instant calorie count when a user snaps a picture of their plate with a smartphone, encouraging healthy eating.


Other apps, such as FitBit and Fooducate, track exercise and calorie intake to help people stay on course with weight loss, while the government-sponsored Text4Health program is proven to help people stay tobacco-free through use of motivating and informational text messages.


Other apps help people track exercise intensity and time, use the GPS in their phones to map running and walking routes, compete against themselves and others to take more steps or perform more activity minutes, and keep a daily diary to identify and avoid triggers for conditions such as migraines and asthma.


Managing Conditions Gets Easier...

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