Health 2.0: User-Generated Health

Mobile and online health applications have the potential to help patients by aggregating data and providing feedback from peers and medical professionals.

As highlighted in a session at the Health 2.0 conference in San Francisco this morning, mobile and online health applications have the potential to help patients by aggregating data and providing feedback from peers and medical professionals. The session was moderated by Health 2.0 co-founder Indu Subaiya and included commentary from panelists Gary Wolf, co-founder of Quantified Self; Thomas Goetz, deputy editor of Wired; and Aza Raskin, founder of Massive Health.

The applications highlighted were as follows:

Diabetes Connect: Stead Burwell, CEO of Alliance Health Networks, explained that his company launched the application in 2008 to provide diabetes patients with a socially powered site about their condition where they could come to share information and experiences with their peers. He said that the site’s social features are particularly popular among users. For instance, a patient can type in a status update, including their mood as well as their glucose level. (E.g. “Jenny25: I shouldn’t have had that French toast. . . . J Latest glucose level 151.”) In the discussion that followed, Wolf noted that this is indicative of a trend toward self-expression through data in addition to words, noting that users of Nike Plus do something similar when they post graphs representing their exercise record online.

MedHelp: Khaled Hassounah, chief technology officer of MedHelp, explained that his company’s app aims to make data relevant to users. As an example, he brought a pregnant colleague up on stage to weigh herself, adding a new data point to a set documenting the progression of her weight through pregnancy. This dataset was then expressed as a graph comparing her weight gain with that of other pregnant women to ensure that she is not gaining too quickly or slowly. If there were any abnormality, she could then reach out to doctors. In the future, the company hopes to send the data directly to a patient’s EMR so her doctors could monitor it.

HealthTap: Ron Gutman, founder and CEO of HealthTap, announced the launch of his company’s mobile app from the stage. The platform aims to link patients directly to doctors who can answer their medical questions. Gutman hypothesized that Subaiya, who recently had a baby boy, was curious about whether there was any connection between the MMR vaccine and autism. Using the mobile app, she posed the question to a corps of 5,000 doctors. Later, at home, suppose she wanted to eat some sushi, but worried whether it was safe to do so while breastfeeding. To find out, she typed in the question and a number of similar questions with answers from doctors came up, offering her a range of opinions to choose from. In addition, she received a response from a doctor about the MMR vaccine assuring her that it does not increase the risk of autism.

OneRecovery: David Metzler, CEO of OneRecovery, explained that his company’s app aims to help people conquer addiction through feedback and support from peers and monitoring by health professionals. Those struggling with addiction log onto the site and input their emotional status, which Metzler said is the single best indicator of their risk of relapse. The user’s emotional state is then sent out to others in their network, who can then offer support if they are having trouble. On the medical professional side, care managers can easily determine what portion of their patients are doing well and what portion are struggling—and can then look at the recent trend in a given user’s emotional state so they can step in and give them extra attention if necessary.

Stickk: Jordan Goldberg, co-founder and CEO of Stickk, talked about his company’s site, which allows users who want help in achieving a goal to enter into commitment contracts in which they pledge to pay a penalty if they fall short. The consequences of failure can be as simple as paying a financial penalty to a friend or charity of one’s choice—or even a cause that one is opposed to. For instance, if a gun-control proponent fails to lose enough weight, they could be forced to make a donation to the National Rifle Association. A close friend or family member serves as the referee verifying the performance, though the company is moving toward sensor verification as well. The participant’s support network receives periodic updates on the individual’s performance, so they can provide feedback. The company also offers a version that companies can use to set goals for employees, offering users the opportunity to win points that can be redeemed in a virtual mall. In the discussion that followed, Goetz noted that the combination of financial and social incentives provided by the site could be an effective combination as the former have been found to have a good short-term effect, while the latter have a better long-term effect.