Sleep monitoring related offerings started surfacing in the consumer market couple of years ago. More recently EASYWAKEme, another European startup, has thrown it’s hat in the ring.
While reviewing Zeo and aXbo last year, I found myself wondering what was the need for having a bedside clock hardware, since most of that computing could be done in a smartphone. Seems like the crop of solutionsÂ that followed (e.g. WakeMate, Lark, Zeo Mobile) thought of the same. EASYWAKEme follows the pattern: wearable sensor (on wrist) that monitors movement as a proxy for sleep phase, provides intelligent wake-up alarm and longitudinal insight into your sleeping habits. Their ‘how it works‘ page explains it well.
Quick market analysis shows that price is going to be a very important factor since there is a wide range right now and consumers will tend to favor the cheapest. EASYWAKEmeÂ (Â£118), aXbo (starts at â‚¬179), SleepTracker ($149) are at the more expensive end compared to competitors like Lark (starts at $99), Zeo (mobile is $99), FitBit ($99), Jawbone Up ($99). WakeMate has already started the downward spiral at $59.
Activity sensors like FitBit, and more recently Jawbone Up are also chomping at the bit to include sleep monitoring as their value proposition. Cheaper solutions that are just smartphone apps are competition too. I actually bought the $0.99 SleepCycle iphone app out of curiosity (it had >20,000 reviews, most were positive) and ended up forgetting about it after a week. I now put it in the same category as placebo: it’ll work only if you already believe it does.
So the real question is whether body movement tracking and analysis is really a dependable way for extrapolating sleep phases. I still believe (based on scientific persuasion like this, and this) that it is. The ultimate hope is that these low-cost innovations can make their way back to help with serious issues like sleep disorders and psychiatric disorders. Current solutions like polysomnography are too cumbersome to be done outside of a clinical setting.
Disclosure: The generous folks at EASYWAKEme offered to send me a review unit, so I’ll be testing that hypothesis over the next few weeks. Look out for an update to this review in near future.
July 2012 Update: Used the unit several nights. Not scoring high on usability, mostly because of underlying BlackBerry OS inelegance. Overall, the concept seems to work. I woke up fresh most of the mornings I used it. Some gory details below:
- Alarm setup is a pain due to BB limitations.Â Very tricky to use the trackball to setup wake time. Can’t see the cursor lot of times. Aarrgh..
- If I don’t exit the app after pressing sleep, the BB stays on. More than once it ran out of juice by the morning.
- Buggy..even when on “silent” mode, the alarm tone still came on after 3 minutes
- There is no way to shut the alarm immediately on BB! Had to run out with it to avoid waking up my wife. Why can’t i shut the BB alarm with one keystroke or with the button on EASYWAKEme device?
- The device vibrations don’t stop until I hold the button down long enough to shut it off. Not sure if that is intentional design. But quite irritating in the morning…
- The BB’s final step of putting app in “sleep” mode is not intuitive or written well in manual. Also, that should be a button right next to the place where you set the alarm, and not a menu option.
- I would have liked it if shutting off the device or just pressing its button in some way shut off alarm on BB. Without that, the user is forced to hunt down their BB in morning to shut the damn alarm.
- Battery lasted only 2 days during my trial.
Â On the continuum of healthcare IT solutions, there are two distant ends. One extreme can be thought of as the complex, medical-grade enterprise EHR systems that cater to large institutions and mainly providers. The other would then be a consumer-grade solution that is designed for delivering health interventions to the masses. The latter is where Voxiva‘s offerings lie.
Voxiva provides the technology platform, professional services and support needed for designing and deploying a mobile-based health solution for consumers. When you read that, think beyond the now-hip smartphone app market. Less than a fifth of mobile handsets out there are smartphones. So to reach the remainder, the solution has to encompass relatively simpler mechanisms like feature-phone data entry, SMS and IVR.
There are a number of unique design challenges for creating an engaging public health solution that can work across any/most devices and be delivered through multiple channels to a varied set of end-users. It needs to work synchronously across web, mobile, email. It should support data entry across all kinds of user interfaces (feature phones, smartphones, different mobile operating systems, multiple-languages, etc). It needs to deliver real-time alerts (SMS, voice, email, web portal) and provide real-time analysis for decision-makers. And obviously be scalable and dependable with near-100% uptime. What appears to be a simplistic low-end IT solution on the surface is really a huge undertaking to communicate with an end-user population that is as diverse as it can be.
Voxiva’s real impressive achievement is doing a lot of what they do in international market- specially developing countries. They have created a HIV/AIDS mHealth solution for Rwanda Ministry of Health, disease surveillance solution for Peruvian military, diabetes management program in Mexico, and plenty of others. In US, their most famous offering was Text4Baby (see Multiplyd’s previous review on it), an SMS-based maternal health education service launched in early 2010. Since then, they have diversified into Text2Quit (smoking cessation) and Care4Life (diabetes management). Simple interventions, but designed for massive implementation and adoption. Which is why Voxiva continues to stand out.
Accounting for only 7.2% employment in healthcare, Home Healthcare is perhaps one of the lesser known and advertised sub-markets in the industry. It serves patients who prefer to stay at home but need ongoing care that cannot easily or effectively be provided solely by family or friends. These providers deliver a wide variety of health care and supportive services like professional nursing, physical therapy, occupational therapy, social work, nutritional care, medical equipment supplies, etc.
According to the National Association for Home Care, about 12 million people in this country receive care from more than 33,000 home health care providers. The market is made up of few large, publicly traded companies (see LHCG, AFAM, AMED stocks for example) and many small/mid-size players. The challenges faced by these companies are typical of those with field-based employees: scheduling the visits, then figuring out if their employee actually visited the patient, if they did then what was the real time and mileage, ensuring the data collected during visit is archived and accurate, etc.
Which brings me to CellTrak. It was founded in 2006 and delivers mobile-based automation to Home Healthcare agencies. I think it’s a brilliant application of healthcare information technology for alleviating self-reported information issues and paper-processes in a niche market. Given that everyone carries a phone today, using mobile modules to increase compliance and productivity makes a lot of sense for a field-based business. Some examples of the modules available:
- Care Plan Management
- GPS and Directions
- Time and Attendance
- Travel Time and Mileage
- Supply Management
- Alerting and Messaging
- Nurse Care
- Wound Care
Solving logistical issues like location, time capture, attendance, inventory etc. is pragmatic. But providing modules around clinical care is the more interesting strategy from my perspective. Usually, software solutions that enable care documentation and collaboration are associated with either care-delivery enterprises (e.g. fixed location hospitals using EHRs) or with patients themselves (e.g. PHRs). Neither of those have a particularly critical need to be consumable in a mobile form-factor- that is just a nice-to-have functionality. CellTrak has found a special need where the inherent care delivery workflow necessitates even the clinical Healthcare IT solution to be exclusively mobile. It is a good example of the hidden corners within the complex maze of healthcare system which require thinking outside the traditional bounds.
Other examples of using exclusively mobile-based electronic health records are mostly restricted to public health context in developing countries (see ChildCount for example). That skew is mostly due to the field-based nature of public health and mobile being the primary means of connectivity in emerging economies. With CellTrak, we see the same technology paradigm tackling the problems of a conventional health industry segment in a developed country.
CellTrak partners with some EHR (Cerner, Allscripts) and wireless providers (AT&T, T-Mobile, Sprint, Verizon) currently. I expect that the future iterations of most enterprise EHRs would include incorporating a solution like CellTrak which enables running operations in the field andÂ seamlessly connects health information to/from a mobile workforce.
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 haveÂ 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..