Shouldn’t we be concentrating on digital therapeutics rather than ‘health apps’?

Where the money and attention are going. The first generation of Quantified Self apps was all about viewing your data and storing it online in a vault or graphs…somewhere, usually proprietary. Your Pebble, Fitbit, or Jawbone tracked, you crunched the numbers and found the meaning. At the same time, there are wellness companies like Welltok, ShapeUp, Keas, Virgin HealthMiles, and RedBrick Health, usually working with companies or insurers, that use various methods (money, gamification, other rewards) to influence lifestyle and improve a person’s health in a quantified, verifiable, but general way. What’s happened? There are now apps that combine both data and behavior change, focusing on a specific but important (again) condition, coach to change behavior and verify results rigorously through clinical trials. Some, like Omada Health, prove through those clinical trials that their program successfully changes pre-diabetic indicators, such as weight loss, decrease cholesterol and improved glucose control–without medication. This results in big savings for insurance companies, one reason why a $50 million Series C was led by Cigna. Another model is to work with pharmaceutical companies to better guide treatment. Propeller Health with its asthma/COPD inhaler tracker is partnering with pharma GlaxoSmithKline on a digital platform to better manage lung patient usage, and surely this will go through a clinical trial. We will be seeing more of this type of convergence in medical apps. (The rebooted Jawbone Health Hub is moving in this exact direction.) The Forbes article, while short, is written by someone who knows the business of apps– the co-founder of the AppNext distribution/monetization platform. He does achieve his aim in making us think differently about the potential of ‘health apps’. 

Smartphone measures heart and breathing rates without wearables

Researchers at MIT are working on a project to measure the heart rate and breathing using a smartphone’s accelerometer in the user’s pocket or bag without the need for wearable sensors. When the user is at rest the slight movements due to breathing and heart beat are measured using the smartphone and used to derive the heart and breathing rates.

According to a paper published recently, in a test with a dozen participants (a very small sample for this type of test) the heart rates measured using the new method were within one beat when compared to FDA approved sensors they were using simultaneously. The measurements of breathing rate were about a quarter of a breath of the approved sensors.

The aim is to sense when someone is stressed by using the heart rate and breathing and then help cope with the situtation by suggesting, say, breathing exercises or calling for help.

A brief article on the work is published on the MIT technology Review and the full paper is available here.

Swoon or mourn? Smartwatch action: Misfit, MS HealthVault, Glance

The smartwatch is nowhere near dead (check the beautiful Withings Activité at CEWeek), but its future, along with pure fitness bands, is a complicated thing. Three moves by small to giant companies further add color to (or complicate) the picture, including an ‘aftermarket’ add on for your current watch:

  • Misfit joins up with the Pebble smartwatch. The Misfit Shine, which has enjoyed much appreciation by the D3H as the ‘elegant button’, announced it will distribute its tracking app and algorithm technology to smartwatch makers. Pebble is the first and not exclusive. Sonny Vu, not known for his subtlety, is quoted in VentureBeat: “If I kept making just fitness trackers, I would be out of business in 12 to 18 months.” Misfit will continue to sell Shine in the US and internationally for at least another few quarters to meet demand for a fitness-only tracker. It shows you how quickly the weather changes: with $23 million in hand, and a Series B last December of $15.2 million, they are pivoting–quickly. John Sculley and other bluechip investors like Khosla Ventures and Norwest Capital obviously see a boulder in the road.
  • Microsoft moving to get into the smartwatch biz. Their patent filing of 2012 was just the first move but both Forbes and VentureBeat have confirmed rumors the device is a go. And they have a core of techies (Xbox) to work on it and the perfect place for the data: Microsoft HealthVault. Nothing like a smartwatch to jolt some life into a moribund PHR!
  • Love your plain old watch but just want to soup it up? Slip Kiwi Wearables’ Glance under your watch instead and get fitness tracking plus smartwatch functions. Kiwi already has the app for the Kiwi Move but Glance seems to have more such as interaction with your phone calls. Think of it as an aftermarket accessory, especially if you’re a traditionalist in watch form factor and/or don’t have the long green for Withings. In Kickstarter funding now with a price point of $65, but they are less than halfway towards their $150,000 goal with only six days to go. Gizmag