Get happier, lose weight, be fitter–the efficacy of apps debated in studies present and future pilots

Do they really work to change behavior? Studies for the past seven or so years have debated efficacy; a quick search online will show you a wealth of articles with findings on both sides. We know healthcare-related (consumer behavior and professional apps) are growing like weeds after rain– over 320,000 mobile, wearable, and IoT health apps were available for use in 2017, with 200 added daily (Research2Guidance, IQVIA estimates). But qualitatively, the jury is out.

Three studies published in the last two months come somewhere in the middle.

Obesity and weight loss: A telemedicine-based 12 week study from California State University found that the combination of a secure mobile phone-based platform for data tracking and video conferencing with the research team, plus meeting with the medical doctor once per month, and weekly with a registered dietitian worked to clinical standards, ≥5% of initial body weight loss over six months, for 69 percent of the telemedicine participants (n=13) versus 8 percent in the control group (n=12). Note the substantial hands-on human support each of the 13 participants received. Journal of Telemedicine and Telecare, Clinical Innovation & Technology

Activity monitoring not effective unless users set goals: A 400-person study performed by researchers from the Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU) School of Medicine and their Knight Cardiovascular Institute found that when people used such monitors and apps without a specific goal in mind, their physical activity declined and their heart health did not improve, even if 57 percent thought it did. The subjects, primarily office workers at one site, wore a Basis Peak band for about five months. To gauge heart health, the researchers also tracked multiple indicators of cardiac risk: body mass index, cholesterol, blood pressure and HbA1C. Cardiac risk factors did not change. However, the corresponding author, Luke Burchill MD PhD, told EurekAlert (AAAS) that when paired with specific goals, the trackers could be powerful tools for increasing physical activity. The original study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine doesn’t go quite that far. 

But it’s great for your morale, especially if you pay for it: A Brigham Young University study published in JMIR MHealth and UHealth (August) confirmed that physical activity app usage in the past 6 months resulted in a change in respondents attitudes, beliefs, perceptions, and motivation. This study’s purpose was to track engagement factors such as likeability, ease of engagement, push prompts, and surprisingly, price–that higher-priced apps had greater potential for behavior change. Possible reasons were that the apps provide additional features or have higher quality programming and functionality. (And user investment?)

One growing area for apps is mental health, where the metrics are solidly behavioral and the condition is chronic. The UK’s National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) has moved forward in favor of piloting them with NHS England. The latest is one from Germany, Deprexis, that uses texts, emails, questionnaires, and cognitive behavioral therapy to give feedback to users. It also has tools to relax users through audio and visual programs. NICE recommends therapist guidance for the trial. According to Digital Health News, NICE is recommending it should be trialed for up to two years in at least two of the specialist services that were set up to improve access to psychological therapies. Again, cost is a factor in rolling out but others are access to care and freeing up therapist time. The organization also plans to review up to 14 digital programs to treat anxiety and depression over the next three years.

Hat tip to Toni Bunting for much of the above

For further reference: The 2017 R2G mHealth App Developer Economics 2017 study has been released and is available for free download here. The 2017 study surveyed 2,400 mHealth developers and practitioners. (Disclosure: TTA was a media sponsor for the study.)

3rings smart plug moves to IoT through Amazon Echo (UK) (updated)

[grow_thumb image=”http://telecareaware.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/3rings-logo-only.jpg” thumb_width=”150″ /]Updated. Good morning, Alexa! 3rings, the ‘smart plug’ that has been monitoring since 2015 a loved one’s or neighbor’s wellness through their daily use of a key home appliance like a kettle or TV, then reporting that activity via a mobile phone/smartphone app, has expanded to the Internet of Things (IoT) with the integration of the 3rings plug with Amazon Echo

The 3rings plug works with Echo and the Alexa avatar in two ways. The first is for family members, friends or neighbors to ‘ask Alexa’ (the Echo unit) if their loved one is safe, similar to the mobile phone reports and alerts. The second is to place an Echo unit in that person’s home so that the person can directly ask Alexa to tell 3rings they need help. This also sends an immediate alert to their friends/family network.

To this Editor, 3rings founder Steve Purdham noted that with Amazon Echo, the 3rings system is now expandable and agnostic, through the addition of proprietary sensors dubbed “Things that Care” and other makers’ devices to the 3rings smart plug so that families have a fuller picture of the monitored person’s pattern of activity. 3rings Things monitor temperature, activity, motion, open/close of doors and windows, and button, and are priced a la carte or in a package with the Echo. The system also integrates with Samsung SmartThings, purchased separately, for additional types of monitoring. “Through this platform we want to stay ahead of the Internet of Things curve and demonstrate how technology can care.” Steve confirmed that the system is available now via a new website from the original (and still available) 3rings, with a group of users already on board. Full rollout is expected in August. Another advantage of integrating with Echo, according to Steve, is that the system can be offered in any location where Echo is. Also release

Lively telecare system adds smartwatch-flavored PERS

[grow_thumb image=”http://telecareaware.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/Lively_safetywatch_captioned_June-2014.jpg” thumb_width=”150″ /]The Lively home telecare system, which uses a series of passive activity sensors wirelessly connected to a cellular monitoring hub, announced a ‘safety watch’ addition to its system. The wristband has a watch form factor, is waterproof and contains an emergency button with analog/digital option on its time/date watch face. The smartwatch-ish features are medication reminders and a pedometer for step tracking. When out of home, the wristband tethers to an Android (only) smartphone. Battery is good for about six months. If the button is pushed, there is a ‘countdown’ during which a call center attempts to reach the user by phone (watch is not two-way voice) prior to dispatching emergency (more…)

Wearables on the hype cycle: a ‘Fitbit for babies’

[grow_thumb image=”http://telecareaware.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/12/3019806-poster-1280-sprouting.jpg” thumb_width=”175″ /]Is nothing sacred? Certainly not when you want a high-performing infant! FastCompany Design goes ga-ga over the Sproutling, an anklet activity monitor for the bassinet set. It tracks heart rate, skin temperature, and movement plus the room’s ambient temperature, humidity and light levels via a camera and sensors in a base station, sending data to parental smartphones. Target price not disclosed. More measurements here than our late summer baby rave, the Owlet smart sock sleep monitor which primarily alerts for dangerous baby rollover onto the stomach and trends in sleep quality, plus blood oxygen and skin temperature. There’s quite a bit in the article (more…)

KeepUs–smartphone-based senior activity monitoring and telecare

KeepUs is a new, free app developed in the UK that when installed on an older person’s or a child’s Android smartphone, allows a family member to monitor that person’s both indoor and outdoor activity. Using geolocation, the family member can see that person’s visits (locations can be labeled), level of activity on any given day, alerts (being idle for too long), how much time was spent at each named location over the past two weeks (if Uncle Ted is spending three hours every day at the pub), and trends over two months. It requires no action from the person being tracked other than to carry the smartphone (certainly less obtrusive than a bulky non-removable watch). The family member/carer installs the app on both phones and controls permissions to view the other person’s activity. The app is in beta, free for individual use in the UK. (more…)