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Biomedicine

Technologies for Healthier Living

New health-tracking apps, devices, and platforms from the Health 2.0 conference.

The Lumoback, a Band-Aid-like sensor that is affixed to the back, could soon stand in for the legions of mothers commanding us to sit up straight. This wearable sensor monitors posture and sends vibrations to your lower back if you slouch. It connects wirelessly to a smart phone app that helps guide correct posture and tracks posture over time. It also connects users to other resources for a healthy back. The app won a competition for best health app at the Body Computing conference at the University of Southern California last week.

Castlight does for health care what is already obvious for any other market: it offers price comparisons. The cost of common diagnostic tests and medical procedures can vary widely; a cholesterol test in the same city might cost from $11 to $150, for example. These costs are typically opaque to the consumer. But as consumers have to take on more of their own medical costs, the demand for transparency has grown.

The company, founded in 2008 by entrepreneurs Giovanni Colella and Todd Park, now chief innovation officer for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, works with large self-insured employers to provide their employees with a way to scan the out-of-pocket cost of medical services at different locations. It also shows quality ratings for physicians and hospitals; the ratings come from governmental sources as well as individual users.

OneRecovery digitizes one of the biggest benefits of Alcoholics Anonymous, which is a network of supporters ready to help when times are tough. The program starts by asking users to log their emotional state, one of the biggest predictors of relapse. If a user enters a high-risk state, such as anger or frustration, members of his social network will text him words of support. According to founder David Metzler, a user posting a high-risk emotional state will get an average of five responses.

The service is available through health-care providers and insurers. The site will launch a smart-phone app in October.

While several devices are available to detect when elderly people fall and call for help, researchers at Care Innovations, a company formed from a collaboration between Intel and GE, aims to predict who is most at risk for a fall before it happens.

The research prototype shown here, called qTUG, consists of two wearable sensors embedded with an accelerometer and gyroscope and strapped to the lower legs. The sensors send data wirelessly to a tablet computer loaded with special software. The wearer performs a standard test used in the doctor’s office to predict an individual’s risk of falling. It times how long it takes for the patient to get up from a chair, walk three meters and turn around.

After studying 600 people over five years, researchers have identified a pattern most common to people who would later fall. Ultimately, they hope to use the program to identify these people early on during routine office visits. Physicians could then prescribe strengthening exercises to mitigate that risk or recommend cognitive tests that assess the part of the brain responsible for balance.

Dossia’s personal health manager, launched this week, incorporates multiple aspects of a user’s heath into one location. Offered as a voluntary service through employers, a personalized portal houses data from electronic health records. But it also allows users to track data from devices, such as the Fitbit or NikePlus, both of which measure activity.

Users also have access to a curated app store with a range of medical and wellness offerings; the health-care blue book, for example, compares costs for different tests, while a health-risk-assessment app uses test results from the patient’s health record to perform a type of assessment typically done in the doctor’s office.

Families can create networks of members, allowing anyone in a family to track the clan’s health activities. A Facebook-like news feed keeps users informed of updates, such as when a claim went through, when other members exercised, or when test results are available.

Zeo will soon launch a new mobile version of its sleep-tracking system, which logs different stages of sleep. Like the existing system, sleep data is gathered from a fabric headband worn during sleep. But rather than sending data to a bedside base station, the new Zeo fires the information via Bluetooth to the user’s smart phone. The user can review data on the phone, tracking sleep trends over time.

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