The idea is certainly not new. Using VR immersion as a part of mental health treatment has been a subject of academic research and debate for a couple of decades. What usually makes news are opinion articles and university research projects.
I’ve seen commercially-oriented companies (like VirtuallyBetter) but none that gave me the impression of a true ‘VR platform for Psychiatrists’. Limbix seems to be the (?)first silicon valley outfit to tackle the workflow, documentation and content needs involved in integrating immersive VR therapy to mental health. Their website is terse, as usual for a startup, so most of this is my gut feel.
Using VR (or AR) to help patients overcome anxiety, phobias and other mental health conditions is in care delivery future. Reminds me of the optimism in late 90s when PACS technology was washing up on the shores of film-based radiology field. Limbix is to be filed away as a representative attempt at a viable digital health niche.
Update: Right after I wrote this, my network pointed to Psius, AppliedVR which look similar.
The concept of sensor-based connected devices that help consumers manage a healthy lifestyle is certainly gaining traction. Consider FitBit, Zeo, DirectLife, miCoach, BodyMedia, GreenGoose as examples. It was only a matter of time before a startup in this space decided to go with a watch-like form factor.
I first heard about MyBasis during a talk given by Bharat Vasan (founder?) at Bay Area Quantified Self gathering in June 2010. He referred to it as PulseTracer back then, and described its use for pulse monitoring. Based on the current description on their website, the product concept seems to have matured. Similar to BodyMedia, it now has 4 Sensors: Pulse, Temperature, Accelerometer, Skin Conductance (i.e. moisture). It is USB and bluetooth enabled; and comes with integrated social functionality (gaming, sharing, rewards, etc.). There seem to be smartphone, iPad and online applications that help provide analysis and understanding of the collected data.
MyBasis certainly has the concept nailed: A smart device with multiple sensors and long battery life in a familiar form-factor + Always-on and connected to desktop, mobile and online dashboards that simplify analysis of the aggregated raw data + Integrated social features that help make it sticky and viral. If they play it right, this can be a hit. Mainstream competition from products (like the lackluster Polar offerings) is uninteresting and hardly addictive.
But critics can say that there are always technophile early-adopters (like me) who crave anything that is novel and web-enabled. So before we get over-optimistic about the impending success of such devices, consider two important caveats.
First, it’s not about sophisticated monitoring or granular data. Whether they realize it or not, the key value proposition for an average end-customer is the personalized insight that results from it. Gathering 24X7 data from multiple sensors is great, but it’s all pointless if the user doesn’t understand the ultimate picture that results from all that data. Most users are interested in revelations into their health and lifestyle, not numbers. So the way MyBasis handles analysis is going to be critical. I was disappointed with MyZeo and FitBit for the very same reason. An interesting approach that MyBasis seems to have is the creation of a virtual pet that gives a quick proxy of your overall status. It may sound silly, but abstractions like these have shown promise in encouraging self-monitoring and positive behavior change in users (e.g. see UbiFit project at University of Washington).
Second, the technology and device needs to be so well-integrated with a user’s lifestyle that they essentially ‘disappear’. If someone needs to put a headband one (like for Zeo) or remember to find a USB cable and synchronize every week to prevent data loss, you can be assured that it’s not going to work out long term. As a species, we humans have remarkable lack of discipline even when it comes to things/habits that are good for us. So the offering needs to add minimal extra work and be seamless with your daily life. Neil Versel at MobiHealthNews calls it “passivity”. Example: FitBit gets a better grade than Zeo in this regard. I clip it onto my belt (almost sub-consciously now) every day and plop it on to the USB hub (always connected to my desktop) once in a couple of weeks. That’s it.
MyBasis is still in early beta, so my impression is based on what their website claims and not actual usage. I’ve signed up for preorder and will update this review when I get my hands on one. Seems like the cost is a one-time $199 for now. It would make a lot of sense to have a subscription-based model of some sort though. Also, it’d be great to see such solutions go beyond just wellness and be tailored for medical-grade serious conditions like diabetes, hypertension, etc. All clues indicate that such applications are not very far in the future.
The wireless remote health monitoring market is white hot these days. Seems like a lot of creative folks are looking at the increasing ability of connected devices, sensors and wondering why aren’t these disrupting healthcare. Some luminary research centers rooted in academic institutions have found enough financial support to establish formal presence specifically in this space. West Wireless Institute in San Diego, UCLA Wireless Health Institute are good examples.
Established in 1995, the Center for Connected Health is another such example within Partners HealthCare in Boston. They’ve dabbled in a number of remote monitoring pilots- diabetes, dermatology, heart failure, etc. Healthrageous is their first spin-off. It started as a pilot project conducted in 2006 with EMC Corp. to give employees self-management tools for blood pressure. In June 2010, Healthrageous raised $6 million in a Series A funding led by North Bridge Venture Partners of Boston.
Having read enough of them, I think the marketing message around the concept of continuous care through remote monitoring has now been perfected from multiple angles. Read the descriptions from Welldoc, HealthBuddy, Telcare, iMetrikus, Hommed, Cardiocom, Gentag, BL Healthcare for example. Healthrageous also does a good job at describing the high-level value proposition.
But it seems that the transition from online paragraphs to a generally available, well-known and affordable solution has not happened. I searched for what product/service I could buy through Healthrageous to help a close friend manage her hypertension, but couldn’t find anything. There are some encouraging success stories on the website, but no explanation as to where can one sign up for becoming a success like that. I wish these websites were more transparent and lucid, maybe even at the risk of being less enchanting.
PS: Found two candidate consumer-oriented solutions for remotely managing hypertension. One is not available yet (Withings BP Monitor), and other needs an Apple iOS device to work (iHealth Lab’s BP3) and didn’t get great reviews. If anyone knows of other products/services, please share through comments below.
Update Oct 2013
: Healthrageous closed shop this month. Apparently the backing of big names like Partners Healthcare and millions in funding ain’t enough. Who would have thought..
MeYou Health is a ‘well-being company’, in their own words. Their offerings help users engage in a healthy lifestyle, using their social network support. If you are like me, that doesn’t really tell you what they do. So I decided to find out more.
MeYou Health started in 2009, and is funded by Healthways, Inc. Healthways is a 30-year old, publicly traded health services company based in Franklin, TN. They main business is to provide disease management and wellness programs to managed care companies, self-insured employers, governments, and hospitals. MeYou Health seems to be a good extension to what they do.
The current ‘products’ being offered are all aimed at fostering behavior change and provide social support. The available lineup is:
- Daily Challenge: Released September 2010. Sign up through a Facebook account, and you get daily emails encouraging one small ‘positive’ action like eat an apple, rearrange your desk. Points, badges and levels are achieved as actions are completed. There is added social functionality of peer-to-peer competition, benchmarking etc.
- Community Clash: A web-based game that allows players to discover their communities’ health to other U.S. cities by choosing “cards” that represent health indicators such as obesity, smoking, diabetes, etc. The goal of this poker-like game is to bet on which city is more healthy. Underlying data for it is sourced from several databases that were promoted by the HHS led challenge, the Community Health Data Initiative (CHDI). This page lists those databases, and I found it to be a good bookmark of what open-databases are available around certain health-related topics like diabetes, uninsured etc.
- Change Reaction: Another Facebook app that lets you record a small ‘positive action’ and pass it on to your friends. The idea is to create a growing chain of people who do it, and hopefully create a big trend.
- EveryDRINK: A slick Adobe AIR desktop widget that lets you set a daily goal of drinking water, and then subtly reminds you to get a drink periodically.
They have some other under development, listed here. There is no doubt that behavior is a critical factor for healthy lifestyle. And changing behavior is about influencing the micro-choices we make hundreds of times every day (like taking the stairs instead of elevator or skipping soda for water). So there is a role for services that guide and encourage individuals making the right healthy micro-choice.
But such guidance source needs to be omnipresent in order to be effective. What if I end up ignoring my email or desktop alert after the first few times? Or don’t really care about Facebook? Intelligent mobile platforms, ubiquitous connectivity and sticky networks are promising trends that will eventually pave the way for viable solutions. Ones that consumers may even be willing to pay for.