Asthmapolis

Asthmapolis is brainchild of David Van Sickle a researcher at University of Wisconsin-Madison. The basic idea is to equip inhalers with a GPS tag to determine when and where was it used by the patient. When such individual (de-identified, of course) medication data is aggregated, it can provide population care insight like environmental triggers and disease impact.

Seems like there are three components of the overall offering:

  1. A hardware device called “Spiroscout” – a small add-on that mounts the inhaler canister. Every time it is pushed, the location and time-stamp data is recorded.
  2. Mobile app – a ‘diary’ to keep track of symptoms, triggers, medications, etc. Can also be used to view map of data received from Spiroscout, and to get sms reminders for taking medication.
  3. Online website – a ‘dashboard’ of sorts. Can help summarize submitted data to figure out disease patterns and trends.

The hardware device is not out yet (website says it’ll be out this summer), and the mobile app is currently in private beta. So there is not much of real world testing that has happened. But I’m still positive about Asthmapolis, for a number of reasons.

First, it’s the right kind of ‘focused’ monitoring solution that can potentially be transformative for managing a specific disease (kinda like Regina Herzlinger‘s argument about ‘Focused Factories‘ as one of the ways to salvage the entire healthcare system). It’s better than trying to find a solution that can monitor multiple conditions (example 1, example 2). I think the mobile diary and online dashboard would be key engagement tools in this regard. The more focused and customizable, the better.

Second, it helps in medication adherence which is a big issue irrespective of the medical condition. I think that knowing whether you took your medications and getting reminders if you didn’t,  is more powerful than knowing when/where you took it. The mobile app reminders would be a great resource there (automated calls to landlines may be good too…for seniors).

Third, it helps understand the individual triggers and community impact of asthma. For successful asthma management, a patient should know his/her triggers and avoid getting exposed to them. That is not an easy task for a number of reasons. My initial reaction was that GPS may be a bit of an overkill. But with rapidly decreasing cost of location-aware technology, why not? Much better than using it to check-in to nearby McDonalds.

GlowCaps

Of all the consumer healthcare device ideas, this may be the most ingenious one. In August 2009, Massachusetts-based Vitality announced availability of GlowCaps– a web-enabled $99 cap for prescription bottles that helps remind patients to take their medications on time.

GlowCaps fits the standard pill container, and uses short-range wireless communication to talk to a gateway hub at home that is connect to the internet. There is also a reminder light (looks like a night light) that plugs into any standard power outlet. If the bottle isn’t opened at the appointed time, the cap and night light start blinking to remind the owner to take the medication. If after an hour, the pill is still not taken, GlowCap starts start playing jingles as well. After yet another hour, it’ll send a message to Vitality’s system which can then place an automated phone call or send a text message with a reminder. Brilliant.

Beyond having a ‘smart lid’ for bottles, Vitality has integrated functionality that keeps caregivers in loop. There are social support features (shareable weekly email reports), refill facilitation (refill reminder calls) and physician interaction tools (printed monthly reports to you/doctor). So it hits all the major interaction points for a patient’s medication regimen. Last month AT&T put out a press release about GlowCaps running on its wireless network. So the Vitality gateway now has mobile phone technology, and I assume that precludes the need for an ethernet connection.

Every clinician knows that medication adherence is a huge problem ($100B figure has been thrown around as the cost of poor adherence in US). More than a consumer product, this is a fantastic service that can change medication packaging in general. And looking at the Managed Care (enhance the personal/medical record), Research (change patient behavior) and Pharma (reduce brand-switching) focused pages of their website, I think Vitality knows that. It’s definitely the next stage in evolution of the standard pill dispensers (like ePill, Philips).

Their CEO David Rose has an interesting background in creating internet-connected everyday devices at his last company, Ambient Devices. Somewhere in a press release I read his quote about “…providing minute-by-minute adherence data to motivate healthy behavior.” If you take the word ‘adherence’ out, that may be a basis for a lot of future medical solutions and an adage for next-generation of medical device companies.

Feb 2011 Update: GlowCaps was acquired by the billionaire surgeon Patrick Soon-Shiong. He is the director of UCLA’s Wireless Health Institute.

ZumeLife

Zume Life is a San Jose start-up that is planning to develop its own dedicated device to allow individuals to keep track of and manage their own care regimen. It’s target users are individuals with complex care requirements- taking a multiple medications, specific diets, frequent measurements, daily exercise etc.  What they offer is a ‘Zumi Life Service’ that helps coordinate the logistics of doing these multiple activities. The service can be accessed via the device, an iPhone app, and a website. The device (designed by Dubberly Design Office, seems still under development) is called “Zuri” and below is a pic and video that, interestingly enough, I found elsewhere on the web.

In an effort to understand what is unique about Zumi Life, I stumbled upon this interview with its CEO. Crunchbase tells me that they started with $700k seed funding in 2007 and got a Series A infusion of $1M in April 2008. With that context, several questions come to mind. Zume Life needs manual input for all the data it needs from the user- and that assumes the user to be reliable enough to put it in. If Zuri had a sensor to automatically capture the critical vitals (like Zeo, Bodymedia, DirectLife, FitBit, LifeShirt and scores of other devices), that would make it infinitely more useful. But I understand that there is no automatic sensor for your mood or for what you just ate, so somethings need to be captured manually. Which is why there are services like RememberItNow, Reqall, Zealog, Polka etc. Still, why not get the medication list for Zuri from PHR platforms like Google Heath? If we assume that the chronically ill and overworked individual remembers to input their care regimen in one place, why wouldn’t they use a simple paper sticky note or a smartphone reminder app? Even a simple Google Calendar or 30Boxes event can be configured to deliver reminder emails that show up as audible, sms alerts on your phone. So is there really a need for a dedicated hardware device in a world that is slowly converging mobile computing platforms? Zuri reminds me of the device that is made to do twitter only.

The price tag was also a bit of surprise. Although there is no official mention of pricing on the Zume Life website, I found a PCmag article from Sept’09 that quotes $35/month or $300/year for the service, and $4.99 for the iPhone app. That sounds way too much money for a basic alerting and journal-keeping service that is 100% manual entry based.

Of course, it’s easy to criticize others idea. I don’t have the complete facts on the service, its utilization and its founder’s vision. The overall trend of using patient-oriented hardware devices integrated with web and mobile dashboard/analytics to manage chronic conditions is for real. I just think sensors are a key aspect of such devices and that pricing can be Achilles heel for adoption.

Early 2010 Update: ZumeLife has closed operations and is no longer in business.

Pillbox by NLM

PillBoxNLMLogoNLM may not be known for Health 2.0 efforts, but this one surely qualifies for one. Pillbox.nlm.nih.gov is a fantastic tool that lets users identify medications by the way they look. A beautiful Adobe Flex powered interface enables selection of various physical characteristics like shape, color, size etc. and comes up with matches.

The website is not currently recommended for clinical use- mainly because the images have not yet been verified by pill manufacturers. Still, it’s a smart tool that can benefit multiple care settings. Many seniors coming through the emergency room and clinics don’t remember the name of their pills, but can recall its visual characteristics. A tool like this can be a great addition to EMRs and even PHRs.

September 2010 Update: Found out that the Epocrates free mobile drug reference app has a “Pill ID” feature which shows pictures of what the pill looks like. Wonder if those are the same images as the NIH pillbox.

Remember It Now

RememberItNowLogoRememberItNow is an online medication reminder service. Once you enter the pill information (what, when) it can send email/text reminder messages at the right time. Also included are some features around access control , scheduling, charting, journal etc.

The site was inspired by a true story, and I agree that we can do better by utilizing web technology for medication adherence. But I’m not sure if there is a need for a devoted web service just around medication reminders. They are currently in beta so all services are free, but looks like they will offer paid accounts once they are out of beta.

Reminder functionality is best served as a part of a bigger PHR platform (like Google Health) and in most cases, there are generic substitutes available. For example, why not use 30Boxes or Reqall or even your Google Calendar instead of paying monthly subscription? All of these are capable of sending reminders at a preset time. Medication reminders is an important issue, but emails/text is not going to be the complete answer imho. Especially given the fact that most of the people having trouble remembering are in an age group where emails/text are not the choice of communication anyway. That is why devices like ePill exist.

April 12, 2010 update: Got a demo of new functionality from CEO Pam Swingly. Besides medication reminders online and on mobile platform, they now also offer a personal health record and the ability to create care communities.