Category Archives: App

MyFitnessPal: Surprising Data Spurs Behavioral Change

As part of Lift’s Quantified Diet Project, I’ve been tracking my calories since January 1st using the free MyFitnessPal app. I’ve previously disliked the thought of tracking every meal and snack, unconvinced that tracking only calories was helpful in a diet plan. After using the app for a month, I’m very appreciative to have a sense of what types of foods I eat, how much I snack (a lot) and just how little consistent exercise I do. And of course my lifestyle is slowly changing for the better.

While calorie tracking seems tedious and the manual entry outdated, the task of consciously knowing what you eat everyday and how much you burn off gives, at the very least, a sense of awareness. Who knew that on average my snacking added an extra 500 calories a day, or that I overeat the most when the food choices are Mexican or Italian? There are over 3 million foods in the MFP database so what you are eating is most likely in there – or you can add it. The barcode scanner takes out a lot of typing and you can create pre-set meals for your favorite/most often cooked items.

During this month, I’ve started to eat healthier, eat less, and actually lost a couple of pounds. For those concerned more about the breakout of nutrition, MFP differentiates carbs, fats and protein along with vitamins. There is no food that is ‘bad,’ but there are amounts that can be. So for now I can still eat chocolate covered almonds and peanut butter filled pretzels (thanks, Costco!) but I’m aware of the extra exercise I need with every bite.

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First Opinion: Personalized Doctor Messaging, Designed for Moms

Sometimes all you need is a first opinion. Designed especially for moms, First Opinion gives users the ability to text an assigned doctor via the app during any time of day. All First Opinion users are paired with a doctor who is also a mom. Subscription based at $9/month, the user is connected with the same doctor for every subsequent exchange. Frequent topics doctors can help with include illness, pregnancy, child development, nutrition, lactation and sleep training.

I tried the app to ask what I should do about a nagging cough. Within an hour of signing up, I was matched to Dr. Preet, who messaged me her recommendations to soothe the cough. The recommendations were fairly organic, which is not a surprise since she can’t prescribe over the app. In fact, to get past HIPAA at the moment, my information remains anonymous, except for the information that I choose to share via chat. The fast, responsive messaging and thorough follow-up makes the app a great tool for concerned parents. With a recent fundraise, First Opinion is geared to support more doctor consults for first time moms.

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Kinsa Smart Thermometer: World’s First Smart Thermometer and Real-Time Illness Tracking App

Feeling feverish is often the first symptom of getting sick and finally there is a smart thermometer that can calculate, display, and track changes in temperature with one app. The Kinsa Smart Thermometer is beautiful in its design and very easy to use. Not only does it track an individual’s temperature, but it also aggregates geographic health information and user feedback to help understand which illnesses are spreading and where.

I tested Kinsa in beta, and was astonished at how light, flexible and comfortable it is to use. Kinsa is made to be used by the whole family, but is especially well tailored to children. The smartphone display has fun bubbles that makes temperature taking engaging for the fidgety little ones. Each time a temperature is taken, the user can assign it to a person and save the record. Additionally, the precise time of the stored data is helpful information to a doctor.

By the time it is released to the public, Kinsa will have the ability to track the health within private groups (e.g. your child’s classroom, your neighborhood). This innovative spread-of-illness crowdsourcing will be able to create a truly connect, global network of aware families. It also means faster care – if you struck a high temperature and knew that strep was going around, you could head to the doctor when symptoms first appear to get antibiotics and avoid a long recovery.

Something so useful, technology driven, and affordable should be on everyone’s list of must-have health devices. Kinsa is taking pre-orders on their website, to be fulfilled March/April.

 

Kinsa Smart Thermometer from Kinsa on Vimeo.

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Best in Healthcare For 2013

2013 was a great year for consumer healthcare technology. This year, 95 million Americans have used mobile phones as health tools or as search devices to find healthcare information, paving the way for a more connected and health conscious 2014.

To continue with my annual Year in Review, I present some of my favorite companies and posts in 2013.

A big thank you to my readers for your support, ideas and input.

-Alexis

Best New Entrants into Wearables:

Best Smart Fabric Concepts:

  • Athos — Athletic apparel made with smart fabric and sensors to measure every muscle exertion, heartbeat, and breath
  • OMsignal  — Embedded sensors in the apparel monitor your heart rate, breathing, and activity

 Best Fitness Apps:

  • RunKeeper — GPS app to track outdoor fitness activities
  • Moves — GPS app to track daily activity continuously, shown on a timeline
  • Charity Miles — GPS app that tracks and lets you earn money for charity when you walk, run, or bike

 Best Personalized Coaching:

  • Sessions — Simple, individual, and thoughtful fitness program to help you get healthy
  • Wello — Online workouts with a Certified Personal Trainer in real-time on your mobile device over live video

A New Twist to Common Items:

  • HAPIfork — An electronic fork that monitors eating habits and alerts you when you eat too fast
  • Beam Technologies — A smart toothbrush that monitors oral hygiene and reports habits to a smart app
  • Withings Blood Pressure Monitor — Measures, calculates and tracks changes in blood pressure on graphs

Best Up and Coming:

  • PUSH — Tracks and analyzes performance at the gym; measures power, force and balance
  • Emotiv Insight — Multi-channel, wireless headset that monitors brain activity to optimize brain fitness and measures cognitive health and well-being
  • Scanadu Scout — Medical tricorder to measure, analyze and track vitals
  • MC10 — Stretchable electronics that conform to the shape of the body to measure and track vitals

Best for Healthcare Providers:

  • Pristine — Develops Glass apps to help hospitals deliver safer, more coordinated, more cost effective care
  • Informedika — Marketplace for electronic test ordering and results exchange between healthcare providers
  • IntelligentM — Data-driven hand hygiene compliance solutions for hospitals to dramatically reduce healthcare-acquired infections
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The Diet Resolution: Start the New Year with a Healthy Eating Lift

I’ve never stuck to a diet – except when I tried going gluten free (it was difficult and I ended up eating a lot of gluten free pizza, cookies, and candy, defeating the purpose of a healthy alternative diet). Now with Lift to keep me on track, I look forward to tackling a month of diet change.

This year, Lift is launching a Quantified Diet Month where you can either pre-select a diet or use a diet Lift selects for you. For the month of January, Lift will encourage, teach, and help you through the diet via the Lift app. The app will measure and survey you regarding your weight loss, mood, energy, and adherence to learn more about dieting and what works for you.

Here is the list of ten diets you can choose from, below. To learn more, check out this post.

  • Paleo: eat like a caveman, mostly veggies, meats, nuts. Advised by Paleohacks and Nerd Fitness
  • Slow-Carb: lean meat, beans, and veggies; abstain from white foods like sugar, pasta, bread, cheese. Based on Tim Ferriss’s 4-Hour Body
  • Vegetarian: vegetables, but no meat. Cheese and eggs are optional. Advised by No Meat Athlete
  • Whole foods: eat only recognizable foods and avoid processed ones. Advised by Summer Tomato
  • Gluten-free: no wheat, rye, barley or wheat-based foods
  • No sweets: a simple diet change that affects your insulin swings
  • DASH: USDA’s current recommendation
  • Calorie counting: the old standard
  • Sleep more: the science says this should work. Advised by: Swan Sleep Solutions
  • Mindful eating: learn mindfulness to recognize when you’re full. Advised by ZenHabits and the Center for Mindful Eating
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EveryMove: Earn Points and Rewards for Every Move

EveryMove gives you rewards for moving. Seriously, you get points for the things you are already doing for your physical activity. Walking to work, running, biking, or mowing the lawn? Sync up your wearable activity tracker or manually input your activities to get rewarded and recognized by your health plan, your employer and national brands. Right now, over 160 brands use EveryMove to reach subscribers and reward them for activity. What was the thought process behind creating EveryMove? CEO and Co-Founder, Russell Benaroya tells us his story.

In 2005, Russell launched REM Medical, a network of comprehensive sleep centers to deliver leading quality sleepcare in the rapidly expanding field of sleep medicine. While at REM Medical, he saw that nearly 80% of their patients were being treated because of poorly made lifestyle choices, including those surrounding diet and wellness. While managing and solving these issues was important to REM, Russell saw the value in prevention. He wondered, “How do we create a company that isn’t constrained by people who are already in the healthcare system? We came up with the goal that we wanted to improve the lives of 10 million people in 10 years, which required technology that could scale and the ability to reach people who are wellness minded but not necessarily already inside the healthcare system.”

Russell’s goal of impacting people before they found themselves inside the healthcare system laid the foundation for EveryMove. In his words, “Through a number of iterations, we got inspired by the idea of putting control into the hands of the consumer to show that their healthy lifestyle has value.”

There are 200,000 registered users on EveryMove today and growing quickly. To help participants who are looking for the right wearable tracker for their individual needs, the company just launched their Fitness Tracker Device and Comparison Tool. As Russell describes, “We want to be seen as a champion on the forefront of healthcare tracking. We don’t know what works for you, but we can help you discover the perfect solution.”

Russell thinks that the timing is right for people to adopt a healthy, value based activity system. “We think that the convergence between healthcare change, wearables, and increased smartphone processing power is creating a nexus point of tremendous opportunity for us.” EveryMove isn’t betting on a single app or device. Even Russell wears and uses multiple devices (Moves App, Fitbit, Nike FuelBand, and Garmin on runs). Instead, EveryMove wants the wearables ecosystem to flourish. As a rewards plan for health, Russell wants users to feel that, “I am part of something that is much bigger than myself and by being a part of EveryMove, it says something about me and the control that I have over my health, and that is a really empowering feeling.”

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Athos: Smart Fabric Measures Every Breath, Heartbeat and Muscle Exertion

A smart fabric plus an accelerometer core creates the next level in quantified performance clothing. I spoke with Athos founding team members, Dhananja Jayalath, Chris Wiebe, and Joel Seligstein to learn more about the technology behind Athos.

What’s so special about Athos fabric?

DJ: “The cloth has sensors that are built directly into the fabric. With ECG sensors and muscle output sensors integrated into the clothing, you can very accurately measure heart rate and muscle effort. The Core is the analytics module of the sensors – it’s essentially the computer that collects and analyzes all the stats and sends the data to the mobile app.”

Why did you opt for clothing instead of a wrist / arm wearable?

DJ: “We wanted to capture data from multiple points. We wanted to capture info from your biceps, quads and triceps, which our fabric lets us do. By building the sensors into clothing we think it also makes it easy to use and remember, and helps create a routine.” Since all the sensors are built in, you’ll be able to measure heart rate without a chest strap and get real-time responsive input on how to best train for your goals.

“We believe that apparel is going to get smarter, it’s not just something you cover yourself up with anymore. Athletes will get an advantage in training with Athos unlike what a simple wicking shirt or compression shorts provide.”

Who is your target audience?

Chris: “People who are going on 6am rides or heading to the gym 3-5 times a week with the goal of getting better and stronger – that is our target market.” Athos apparel is focused on people who want to get better at their fitness goals and those who want to analyze their performance and continue to do better. The company’s differentiation factor is that they aren’t trying to motivate stationary people to move more – they want to help athletes be more efficient and train harder. Athos would be an ideal partner for sports teams, events like the Olympics, gyms, and trainers.

“We’ve talked internally about how our data is good enough for pros to use so that they can train for their events but still approachable enough for the average consumer to use.”

How is the app user experience?

Joel: “We are using the app to give tailored insight to what your body is doing. For weightlifters counting reps is important, but if you are riding a bike, cadence and balance and pushing vs. pulling on the pedal is important. Long term, we’ll continue to iterate and make things customized.“

What is the key takeaway here?

DJ: “We are not just about collecting data – we are about giving the user a great experience. We are not just about the hardware – we want to deliver performance and comfort in something that is unique and useful.”
 

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Quantifying Alcohol Consumption with BACtrack Mobile: Small, Fast, Accurate and Social

One aspect of health and wellness is measuring what we eat. While many mobile apps track calories to regulate diets, not many have tackled measuring the amount of alcohol consumed. In April 2013, BACtrack launched the world’s first smartphone breathalyzer, the BACtrack Mobile Breathalyzer.

The general concept of using a breathalyzer is to quickly estimate a person’s Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) to determine if he or she can legally get behind the wheel. But the BACtrack Mobile serves a higher purpose than that. The breathalyzer provides a quantitative way to track how you feel at different amounts of alcohol consumption – it is essentially a health tracker.

I tested the device and spoke with BACtrack president and founder, Keith Nothacker to learn more.

How did you decide it was time to make a mobile breathalyzer?

“We started to focus on mobile about two years ago, and launched the BACtrack in April 2013. It was a great time for us to design the device. We were finally able to bring down the cost of our fuel cell sensor technology. Years ago if you got pulled over by the police, they would be using a $500 device. Now the cost is a quarter of that. Also, the new bluetooth low energy chip gave us the ability to create a better mobile experience.” When you look at the price of the sensor versus the cost of getting a DUI (on average $10,000) or getting in an accident, monitoring is definitely worth it.

What kind of feedback do you get from people using the device?

“We hear feedback almost everyday. We’ve sold so many over the last decade and we often hear, ‘We had a party and it just changed everybody’s behavior.’ We see the device used in groups. If my friend blows a 0.12 in front of me, now there is quantifiable number that makes that person and all the other people around him accountable. It shares the responsibility and makes everyone safer.”

Keith was adamant on one point. “We tell people that you should not drink and drive at all. The purpose of the device is to understand how alcohol affects your body, not tell you when you can or cannot drive.”

The mobile app helps track your BAC and location and can estimate when you might be sober again. The device is best used 15 minutes after eating/drinking/smoking for the most accurate results.

How accurate is the device?

“The device uses the same fuel cell technology as the BACtrack S80, the handheld screening device that law enforcement uses. New accuracy data will be released on our website in the next few days.” BACtrack does lots of research to make sure their technology, for all devices, shows comparable accuracy to the expensive $10,000 lab instrument they have in their office (and found in police stations).

Who is your main target market?

“We have a pretty broad target market. The device is sold online and in stores like Walgreens and Costco. Purchasers include people who have gotten a DUI – about 1.4 million people a year get a DUI, those who are safety conscious, and suburban people with cars.” They have sold to high schools for prom and football games, small to mid-sized construction companies with zero tolerance rules, and even pizza delivery businesses so they can test teen drivers on Friday nights.

“We often get the question, ‘I drink responsibly, why do I need one?’ Once people use the device, a light bulb goes off. Try it out – you’ll be surprised. If you haven’t eaten and you drink during happy hour, your body reacts differently compared to when you have a drink with dinner. From a health perspective, if you drink alcohol at all, it’s something you could use.”

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Withings Pulse: Little Tracker, Big Heart (Rate Monitoring)

I had first mentioned the Withings Pulse in June and have finally gotten around to testing it.

What sets the Pulse apart from other pocket-sized wearables is the heart rate monitor on the back of the device, which can measure your heart beat in a few seconds. Since I already have the Withings Smart Body Analyzer Scale and mobile app, my Pulse data gets uploaded to the same place as my weight measurements.

Pros:
1. Two week battery life – I rarely charge it and when I do it uses the same charger as most Android phones. Easy.
2. Heart rate monitor makes it more competitive than the Fitbit One.
3. The online portal is robust and you can download all your data – which is pretty cool for those of us who like data.

Cons:
1. Less accurate than similar wearables. I did not run 8.5 miles at a 7:41 pace last Sunday. In fact, that Sunday was the day after a gorgeous destination wedding, where I unwillingly dragged myself to the gym and did 7 miles at a 10 min/mile pace on a treadmill. For a device + app that knows my height, weight, heart rate, etc. it is surprisingly inaccurate. This was also after the software update.
2. Clip format makes it difficult to use. No surprises here – this is a common complaint of mine for clips in general. There is a reason the Fitbit Flex and the new Fitbit Force are wrist wearables – it is easier to have on at all times. The Pulse is also not waterproof, unlike the Jawbone UP, which I wear into the shower. Every time I change clothes (work clothes, workout clothes, home/lounge clothes, pjs) I have to remember to remove and move the Pulse.
3. Bluetooth upload a little slow – especially if you have a weeks worth of data to upload.

Final thoughts? The Pulse is a nice wearable pocket companion – bonus if you already have the scale. I’m sure as Withings starts to collect more data and tune the Pulse the data collection will only become more and more accurate. At this price point, the Pulse competes with the Fitbit One, which doesn’t have a heart rate monitor.

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OnTheGo Platforms: Using Glass with the Ghost of Running Past

I always run faster in races. When I’m doing a training run, my thoughts tend to wander – I think about my to do list or run various scenarios through my mind. During a race, I spend most of my time thinking about how I should maneuver through a crowded group or how to most quickly pass the person in front of me. I also generally run faster during the second half of a running event, pushing for a negative split as some runners start to tire. But during training runs, I grow complacent, focus less on running, and my mind set is not on competition – it’s on finishing.

I could find a running partner – one who runs at my pace, doesn’t want to have a conversation while we run, and who can make him or herself available based on my schedule – or I can (soon) get a virtual running partner. OnTheGo Platforms is creating apps for smart glasses like Google Glass. Their showcase application, Ghost Runner, shows a ‘ghost’ (when you fall behind) that appears running in pace with your old time. Now you can ‘race’ with the old you – and with each progression, you push yourself to steadily run faster. This is a great start to glasses optimized running / fitness applications and a good proof of concept for Glass. I look forward to seeing more great ideas and apps from OnTheGo.

Ghost Runner Leader board from OnTheGo Platforms on Vimeo.

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