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M-health is the use of mobile technology to improve medical services. It’s a new business in mobile tech that requires an uneasy alliance between the notoriously conservative health care industry and the technology-driven mobile world. Applications include collecting health data from patients, delivering healthcare information and direct provision of care. There is a plethora of m-health companies at Mobile World Congress 2010. Here are just a couple of examples:
AlcoSystems Alcosystems specializes in tracking blood alcohol level using mobile technology. The product consists of an alcometer (a small breathalyser unit connected to the mobile device using Bluetooth), a phone application and a web site for tracking the readings of multiple users. The latter can be useful for transport or other businesses that need their employees to be alcohol-free on the job. The photo to the right shows the size of a standard alcometer (centre) and the one being used by Alcosystems (right). Alcosystems also hope to reduce to size of the alcometer to the stage where it can be embedded in jewelery or other personal items.
The Alcosystems product is at an early beta stage but does have a couple of test customers in Stockholm: an ambulance service and Stockholm City Council, which uses it to take readings from people who have lost their driving license after a drunk-driving conviction. Many transport companies in Scandinavia already use an alcometer built into the ignition system so that the vehicle can’t be started until the driver passes an alcohol test. However, these systems are expensive (1,500-2,000 EU). The mobile product will cost around 30 EU per month for a subscription, with a 100 EU installation cost. The use of the mobile phone also allows better identification of the provider of the breath sample. Unlocking can require a photograph to be taken of the user while he is using the alcometer before the reading is sent to base. The Stockholm City Council uses the system because it means that the drivers being monitored no longer have to report regularly to a medical center to be breathalysed. This saves time for the drivers and money for the council.
Alcosystems CEO Miguel Arias also sees potential for a consumer market. The phone application includes an algorithm that tells you how much you can drink the night before in order to be able to drive safely at a particular time the morning after. You take readings during the evening to feed data into this, and the system takes into consideration to user’s gender, age, weight, etc. Alcosystems expects to be ready to go to market with an enterprise version of the product in March and a consumer version in July. The company was founded in 2004 in Stockholm, has 3 employees and is privately funded.
WellDoc specializes in mobile tools for chronic diseases like diabetes. The company was one of the finalists in GSMA’s Mobile Innovation Grand Prix, having already won the American heat. The company’s Chief Medical Officer and founder Suzanne Clough gave, in my opinion, the best presentation at the awards judging in Barcelona. The main objectives of the product are to measure, monitor and manage chronic diseases. A video on the web site gives a demo of the system from the patient’s point of view. A Patient Coach function provides alerts, e.g. check your blood sugar or take medication, and other coaching in the management of the chronic disease. An expert system observes a range of patient data over time and uses this to provide recommendations to the patient and care-givers, e.g. eat 100g of carbs to get blood sugar up. Finally, there are decision-support tools for health care workers to help them optimize their patients’ therapies.
Welldoc has published clinical trials on the effectiveness of its mobile health platform that show statistically significant improvements in the health of patients using the system. Dr Clough emphasized that disease management is a complex problem that requires deep medical knowledge as well as a complex backend. For this reason the input to the platform comes 80% from clinicians and 20% from technologists.
The company was established in 2005 and is already profitable due to work done for pharmaceutical companies (if patients take their medication more consistently, the company’s revenue increases). It claims that the platform can save up to $2,000 per patient per year by increasing adherence to treatment and effecting changes in patient behavior. Welldoc is based in Baltimore and is currently funded by angel investment.