Categories

Tag: mHealth

Healthcare’s Tech Disconnect: Why Aren’t We Building the Products Patients Really Need?

Having been supported by several small business grants from the National Cancer Institute to create online interventions for cancer patients, I have been learning gradually about commercialization models to get our work out to the public. I am dismayed about the major disconnect between eHealth entrepreneurs and eHealth intervention researchers (my personal reference group).

Last year I attended Stanford Medicine X and last week I did a demo of one of our web sites at Health 2.0 in Santa Clara. Both times, I was struck by the assumption in the IT developer and consumer community that giving people realtime feedback about their health will automatically result in major positive changes in behavior, not to mention cost savings for insurers.

The Connected Patient movement seems particularly naïve to me. Psychologists have been using self-monitoring, i.e. recording behaviors such as smoking, eating, and exercise, for at least 30 years to promote behavior change. First we used paper-and-pencil diaries, but researchers like Saul Schiffman quickly adapted the first handheld computers to prompt people to record their behaviors in realtime, greatly increasing the accuracy and power of self-monitoring.

As technology has advanced, so have our means of self-monitoring. Overall, however, the technology matters far less than the procedure itself. For most people, tracking their smoking, calories, mood, or steps does change unhealthy behaviors somewhat, for a limited period of time. A small group of highly educated, motivated people is more successful in using self-monitoring to make larger, more lasting changes.

I was reminded of this last year in a seminar on tracking at Stanford Medicine X, when a concierge physician from San Francisco and several of his patients talked about being empowered to change their health by using feedback from various types of sensors. One had paid out of pocket for a continuous blood glucose monitor since his insurance would not cover the costs to use it for his Type II diabetes.

Another doggedly demanded access to the data from his cardiac defibrillator. They believed their experiences heralded a sea change in health care in the United States. I am all for empowering patients with knowledge, tracking tools, and social support.

However, if knowledge and feedback was all it took to change unhealthy behaviors, psychologists would be superfluous in the world.

Continue reading…

Commentology: Where Do Apps Go When They Die?

The developers of  the app Pain Care, the winner of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Project Health Design challenge two years ago,  have this to say about THCB contributing writer Dr. Leslie Kernisan’s recent post wondering why the winning entries of development challenges have a habit of  disappearing and never being heard from again:

We are the app developer. We are also disappointed with the outcome of the app. But I think we also learned valuable lessons here.

One of the challenges small business facing is the need to rapid prototype and test the market, and then move on to another idea when the previous idea fails to gain traction. That is especially true with grant funded projects — they need to “make money” after the grant ends in order to justify continued development effort.

Pain Care was developed in the early days of mHealth, and it was indeed very physician focused — the reason is that we believe we must engage physicians to look at the data. We still hold that belief. It is a learning process for us. We put in our own money to develop the app, and fortunately, won the developer challenge.

We made the app public after the challenge to “test the market” — so to speak. But, as you know, essentially *none* of the pure app-based “patient journal” has turned out to be a success (let alone a financial success). Our app is no exception. It is enormously costly keep the app updated for all those iPhone, iPad, iOS released every year, as well as thousands of Android devices released since then.

So, the app becomes one of those “outdated” apps in the app store, and I think it is quite obvious to users as well. However, I think the app did contribute significantly to the “science” of mHealth. We now understand much more what works and what not in “patient engagement”. Many other “pain management” apps have since emerged, and many have done a better job than ours. I think that was what RWJF wanted when they challenged developers back then. :)

Today, we do things a lot differently. We no longer release research grant-funded apps to the public. Instead, we run clinical studies to test them in much smaller / controlled groups. We do not attempt to tackle vague “big problems” like general pain management any more — instead, we are much more focused on managing specific diseases that include pain. We are also moving beyond “pure software” and “simple reminders” to engage people in multiple modalities.

All of these would not be possible without the generous award RWJF gave us in picking Pain Care as the winner of one of the first developer challenges.

Regulating Health IT: When, Who, and How?

Health care providers and consumers are increasingly using mobile technology to exchange information. Many health IT providers readily acknowledge that some level of oversight is required to ensure patient safety and privacy protections, but many providers question whether the FDA is the right agency for the job and want to see the FDASIA recommendations.

Can the FDA, with its already limited resources and lengthy review cycles, regulate the fast-moving health IT industry? Should it? Health IT is fundamentally different from a medical device in many ways. For oversight purposes, the key differentiator between the two is the opportunity for clinical intervention in the use of health IT. Many medical devices interact directly with the patient (such as an infusion pump or pacemaker). Most health IT, on the other hand, merely provides information to clinicians, who ultimately make independent, experienced care decisions. Physicians are informed, but not controlled, by the information. This leads to a vast difference in the patient risk proposition and rigid regulatory oversight is not appropriate.

Advocates of a broad health IT oversight framework – which encompasses mobile health IT – are urging the FDA to delay release of its final guidance, particularly in light of a July 2012 Congressional mandate for the creation of a comprehensive oversight framework that avoids regulatory duplication.

But some mobile medical application developers are pressing the FDA to move forward immediately, believing its guidance will reduce the regulatory uncertainty that they believe is stifling innovation and investment in some aspects of mHealth.

Continue reading…

When Foundation-Approved Apps Founder

What does it mean when an app wins a major foundation’s developer challenge, and then isn’t updated for two and a half years?

Today, as I was doing a little background research on task management apps for caregivers, I came across a 2012 post listing Pain Care as a handy app for caregivers.

Pain is certainly something that comes up a lot when it comes to geriatrics and supporting caregivers, so I decided to learn a little more about this app.

“The Pain Care app won the “Project HealthDesign” challenge by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and California HealthCare Foundation,” reads the descriptive text in the Google Play Store.

Well, well, well! RWJF and CHCF are big respectable players in my world, so I was impressed.

But then as I looked at the user reviews, I noticed something odd. Namely, that the most recent one seems to be from April 2012, which is like 2-3 generations ago when it comes to apps.

And furthermore, the app itself was last updated in February 2011. This is like a lifetime ago when it comes to apps.

I decided to download the app and give it a whirl. It’s ok. Seems to be an app for journaling and documenting pain episodes, along with associated triggers. Really looks like something developed by doctors: one of the options for describing the type of pain is “lancinating,” and in a list of “side-effects” (side effects of what? the pain medication one may have just taken?) there is the option to check “sexual dysfunction.” Or you could check “Difficulty with breathing.” (In case you just overdosed on your opiates, perhaps.)

The app does connect to a browser-based account where I was able to view a summary of the pain episode I’d documented. It looked like something that one should print and give to a doctor, and in truth, it would probably be helpful.

Setting snarky comments about the vocabulary aside: this app actually looks like a good start for a pain journal. But it needs improvement and refining, in order to improve usability and quality. Also, although I don’t know much about app development and maintenance, I assume that apps should be periodically upgraded to maintain good performance as the operating systems of iPhones and Android phones evolve.

Continue reading…

Could Mobile Health Become Addictive?

The hype over mobile health is deafening on most days and downright annoying on some.  So it is with some reluctance that I admit that mobile has the potential to be a game-changer in health.  I’ve professed enthusiasm before, but that was largely around the use of wireless sensors to measure physiologic signals and SMS text as a way to deliver messages to patients and consumers.  For several years, the industry has been awash with smartphone apps (by a recent count more than 40,000).  At the Center for Connected Health, we started looking at mobile health as far back as 2008 and could not justify the excitement around smart phones and apps at that time, mostly because our patient population did not demonstrate significant enough adoption of smartphones to justify development in this area.

I felt very unpopular at all of the major conferences.  I talked about our success with text messaging as a tool for engaging pregnant teens in their prenatal care and helping patients battling addiction to stick with their care plan, while others were touting the virtues of their various apps.

It’s worth noting that our primary focus at the Center for Connected Health has been patients with chronic illness.  As such, we are every bit as concerned about the 85 year old with congestive heart failure as we are about the young professional with hypertension.  However, across the population of people with chronic disease, smartphone adoption has lagged.  I felt like our strategy was vindicated when my friend Susannah Fox published research showing that folks with two or more chronic illnesses (independent of other variables such as age and socioeconomic status) use technology in the context of their health less than others.

The world of patient care appears to be catching up to the rest of mobile.  Not that I would ever endorse the irrational exuberance shown for mobile health apps in general, but some recent data points that changed my thinking are worth noting.

Continue reading…

Diagnosing Concussions and Assessing Balance- On Your iPhone

The fall sports season is tantalizingly near; players and fans alike are gearing up for the Friday night lights and Sunday afternoon showdowns. But the season comes at a cost; every bone-jarring hit and wince-inducing header carries the risk of sustaining a concussion.

Most media coverage focuses on the National Football League’s professional players, but 65% of traumatic brain injuries are sustained by children. The majority are thought to be undiagnosed, but the Center for Disease Control estimates that 1.6 to 3.8 million sports-related concussions occur each year. This puts athletes at risk of sustaining a second concussion before their brains are fully healed, leading to longer recoveries, permanent neurological damage, and the potentially-fatal Second Impact Syndrome.

A just-released app hopes to change that. Sway Medical, founded by Chase Curtiss in 2011, aims to help health professionals objectively rate the risk of concussion at the source: on the football field or soccer pitch. On-the-spot concussion diagnosis is just the beginning, though; in the near future, the young company plans to enter the hospital space by the end of the year.

The FDA-approved app, called Sway Balance, uses proprietary software and the iPhone’s accelerometer to assess an athlete’s balance over time. In a phone interview, founder and CEO Chase Curtiss said that the app can be used by a health professional to “set up a baseline,” then “compare an athlete over the course of a season to that established norm.” Poor performance compared to baseline is indicative of a possible concussion.

Health care professionals can purchase a yearly subscription to the app for $199 – a fraction of the cost of a typical balance platform – and the patient-facing app is free to download.

Sway Medical has partnered with ImPACT Applications, an organization which Curtiss described as conducting the “gold standard of concussion testing on the market.” ImPACT uses baseline cognitive testing – verbal and visual memory, processing speed, and reaction time – and synchronous testing immediately after a hit to assess if a concussion has occurred.

“But you don’t have an element of physical control of the body,” Curtiss said – which is where Sway Balance comes in. “[ImPACT’s] interest in us is in pairing a balance test with cognitive testing.”

Continue reading…

Self-Care and Caregiving Apps Development

Have I gotten to the end of the beginning in developing tools that help people take care of themselves?

With the recent release of Unfrazzle, an app for caregivers, I believe I have. Unfrazzle builds upon the learnings of Zume Life and Tonic, earlier apps I developed. There were key lessons from hundreds of users and family caregivers that influenced Unfrazzle’s product design, driving it in directions very different from and hopefully much more useful than what you might expect.

These key lessons, explored in more detail below, I group into three themes:

  • Care regimens constantly vary, and so tools must accommodate such variation
  • We live in a network of mutual caregiving, and simple notions of “the patient” or “caregiver–care recipient” match few people’s reality
  • Living, yes living, is much more important than adherence
  • For those unfamiliar with Unfrazzle, here’s a brief description:It is an iPhone app (Android coming soon) that helps users remember and keep track of anything they do to take care of themselves and their family (parents, friends, children, pets), and to stay in-sync with other caregivers in their family. Unfrazzle is a Design-It-Yourself app — it essentially provides a platform, a framework that the user then shapes to meet his own ever-changing needs.

    If that sounds clear as mud, try this: take your favorite pill reminder app, and imagine that you can change all the screens and forms to accommodate any health & wellness activity (not just pills but also other things such as exercises, moods, symptoms, observations, and chores). Then imagine that you can share any of your data with others also using the app, so that you can see each other’s entries. Imagine you can even allow others to make entries for you, then you’ve got the gist of Unfrazzle.

    Care Regimens Constantly Vary

    From the start,  beginning with Zume Life, our focus has been on making it easier for people to remember and track their health regimens. We began by targeting a simple, logistical problem — in our busy lives it is easy to forget little details.

    Our idea was that adherence would be improved if we had a memory aid.

    Our tool had to be somewhat flexible, because we took the approach that we could not possibly know everything a person might be doing for his health. For example, allowing a person to include their supplements in their list of medications, and not just their prescriptions.

    Continue reading…

    #Dataviz + #Design + #Diabetes: The Beginning

    I love interactive data visualization (#dataviz).  It is one of the things that I definitely wanted to explore when I came out to the Bay Area on sabbatical, because I believe that it has great potential for helping both patients and clinicians with diabetes management.  The sheer volume of numbers available for this disease is overwhelming; we need #dataviz tools that can help us achieve greater understanding and make actionable clinical decisions to improve health.

    This is what we usually see in clinic: numbers written down on a piece of paper.

    Yes there are computer systems that link to blood glucose meters, but there are a number of complexities with the downloading of blood sugar numbers in clinic (which deserves an entire blog post sometime in the future).

    You can see there is some visual analysis and annotation that we do perform, albeit primitive.  The circles represent high blood sugars (>150 mg/dl)and the triangles represent low blood sugars (<70 mg/dl). This is almost better than the cave painters don’t you think?

    But even the minority of patients who download their BS to the computer, are viewing dashboards like this.

    Pie charts, need I say more? I can extract some useful insights from these charts, which improve over the previous one I showed, but a few things strike me: (1) some of the scatter plots overlay weeks of data, which I don’t find helpful because you can’t tell how BS on a given day are responding and relate them to life events; (2) some visualizations show a lot of numbers in many of the sections, and it just becomes onerous to go through them and find trends; (3) many provide statistics (area under the curve, MAD%) which I think only a minority of families and children really understand; (4) although some of the software programs do provide interactivity and let you see the data at different time scales (day, week, month), if you change to a different view, you are stuck trying to remember in your head what you saw on a previous screen because you can’t see the multiple levels at once; (4) finally, I find that the user interface and design could use major improvement.

    Continue reading…

    Health Datapalooza Day One: How Will We Grow Data for Improving Health?

    An unfathomably complex entity such as a health system grows over time like a city. Right now, communications and data usage in the US healthcare system is a bit like a medieval town, with new streets and squares popping up in unpredictable places and no clear paths between them. Growth in health information has accelerated tremendously over the past few years with the popularity of big data generally, and we are still erecting structures wherever seems convenient, without building codes.

    In some cities, as growth reaches the breaking point, commissioners step in. Neighborhoods are razed, conduits are laid in the ground for electricity and plumbing, and magnificent new palaces take the place of the old slums. But our health infomation system lacks its Baron Haussmann. The only force that could seize that role–the Office ofthe National Coordinator–has been slow to impose order, even as it funds the creation of open standards. Today, however, we celebrate growth and imagine a future of ordered data.

    The health data forum that started today (Health Datapalooza IV) celebrated all the achievements across government and industry in creating, using, and sharing health data.

    Useful data, but not always usable

    I came here asking two essential questions of people I met: “What data sources do you find most useful now?” and “What data is missing that you wish you had?” The answer to first can be found at a wonderful Health Data All-Stars site maintained by the Health Data Consortium,which is running the palooza.

    The choices on this site include a lot of data from the Department of Health and Human Services, also available on their ground-breaking HealthData.gov site, but also a number of data sets from other places. The advantage of the All-Stars site is that it features just a few (fifty) sites that got high marks from a survey conducted among a wide range of data users, including government agencies, research facilities, and health care advocates. Continue reading…

    Why Texting Patients Works: The Health Belief Model

    With the rise of cell phone usage, smart and otherwise, many health care providers, researchers and entrepreneurs alike have assumed that this ubiquitous technology can be used to improve health and wellbeing. Entrepreneurs have led the charge and so the common catch phrase “there’s an app for that” underscores the fact that nearly 17, 000 health related apps are available either for free or a small charge for Android or Apple users.  Young people in the US are perhaps the best targets of our mhealth efforts because they are eager users of mobile technology. However two questions arise naturally: 1) does data show that these apps lead to improved outcomes? 2) is there a theory of how we might use cell phones to improve health outcomes?

    In a series of studies, we found that simply responding to text messages over a 3-month period led to improved quality of life and pulmonary function in pediatric asthma patients. In both studies, the researchers randomly assigned 30 asthmatic children, 10 to 17 years old, into three groups – a control group that did not receive any SMS messages; a group that received text messages on alternate days and a group that received texts every day. The children that received messages everyday between two scheduled appointments had the improved psychological and physical outcomes. Thus, our data does indicate that cell phones can be used effectively to improve health outcomes.

    Perhaps more compelling is that we may have evidence of a possible mechanism that can lead to improved outcomes. The Health Belief Model is a cognitive theory of behavior change that espouses the notion that a critical pillar of behavior modification is that the individual must make the connection between the severity of the symptoms and the disease itself. In the case of asthmatic patients, we found that many times they attributed their symptoms to other causes. For example, they would say that they couldn’t exercise in the afternoon because they had a heavy lunch or that they couldn’t sleep the night before because they had seen a movie that had made them anxious— rather than attributing these symptoms (inability to exercise or sleep) to their asthma. The Health Belief Model also places value on acquiring knowledge about the disease. Thus, we sent patients texts messages that either asked about symptoms they had experienced or about asthma myths. Thus, our studies also indicate that improving symptom awareness and knowledge about their disease led them to have better medication adherence which in turn led to improved health outcomes.

    Continue reading…

    Registration

    Forgotten Password?