10 Seconds to Better Health – Mobile Apps that are Changing Healthcare

By Jim Mittler, PhD, Medical Director, Palio jmittler@palio.com

Ask any professional athlete, and they’ll tell you: The key to peak performance lies in awareness and measurement. Awareness means knowing how you’re performing and how the surroundings – whether it’s the lay of a particular green at Augusta National or the distance to the right field bleachers in Yankee Stadium – impact that performance. And measurement means tracking what’s working (and what isn’t) with ever-increasing precision.

Together, awareness and measurement can turn an average performer into a superstar. And it turns out that, in healthcare, those two disciplines can have similarly big payoffs.

Healthcare professionals have known for years that feedback loops – whether it’s a blood-sugar measurement or a heart rate monitor – not only tell the patient how he or she is doing at the moment; such indicators also provide the patient with tangible metrics. People inherently want to do better; thus, providing relevant, real-time, personalized data can motivate them to change their behavior.

Biofeedback isn’t just a 1970s golden oldie idea – it’s a core tool for wellness. The current plethora of mobile healthcare apps springing up on phones shows that many pharmaceutical and healthcare companies know the value of helping patients record and monitor key data. But now, a Silicon Valley–based start-up is showing off a prototype device that takes such monitoring to the next level.

The company, Scanadu, plans to produce a small device that, held to the head for a few seconds, transmits readings of the patient’s heart rate, breathing rate, temperature, and other medical data to a nearby smartphone.

It’s a world of difference from the once-every-six-months collection of data taken during regular check-ups – and that’s the point, according to entrepreneur Walter De Brouwer, founder of Scanadu. De Brouwer says that rapid, hassle-free checking allows for long-term data collection and also allows patients to see how their health varies over time and in response to various life events and patterns.

As intriguing as the device is, the story of how Scandau tweaked it on the way to market is just as interesting – at least for pharma marketers:

  • Several designs and sensors were tested before getting to the goal of a 10-second test. More-accurate readings were sacrificed to keep the cost down – and keep the device from being seen as a major purchase needing approval from an insurance company
  • Picking where to test for readings was a marketing exercise as well – some locations gave good information for one reading but not others, and some testing methods were deemed too invasive
  • Even the color of the device was driven by data: Black, while helping to keep out light, was scary to children compared to other colors

Scanadu currently has an alpha-stage prototype but the commercial product is anticipated to be available in late 2013. The company’s ultimate goal? The medical equivalent of Star Trek’s Tricorder – and a more feedback-driven, participatory framework for medicine in which doctors and patients collaborate to make better decisions about health care.

Palio is an advertising agency revolutionizing pharmaceutical and healthcare marketing to create experiences that will Never Be Forgotten.


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