MedApps: The case for dedicated health devices

By Brian Dolan
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Kent Dicks, MedApps"Everyone is going to look for solutions that not only improve care but also save healthcare dollars," MedApps CEO Kent Dicks told MobiHealthNews in a recent interview. "No one can dispute that."

MedApps navigated the early years of wireless health, first as a mobile phone-based solution, which the FDA approved in 2007, before switching to a connected, dedicated device, called HealthPAL. It's a bit smaller than a mobile phone, but unlike a phone based solution MedApps does not require the user to push any buttons to function. Although HealthPAL has buttons to access simple menu options, users are not required to even touch the HealthPAL device in order to transmit data for review and online storage. The goal was to maximize usability to improve compliance.

Dicks describes the current climate for wireless health companies as the time the wireless healthcare pioneers have been waiting for -- finally, the big companies are getting interested in the space.

"This fall is going to be a very engaging time," Dicks said. Read on for more highlights from our recent interview with MedApps.

MedApps HealthPALMobiHealthNews: How did MedApps begin -- describe the decision to move from a mobile phone based solution to the dedicated device offering, HealthPAL.

Dicks: MedApps originally started using the Symbian Series 60 platform. We started developing for that platform and we even received our first FDA clearance for our cell phone-based offering. Then we realized that the cell phone, by its very nature, has limitations. Although it is ubiquitous with some 80 or 90 percent of people having access to cell phones in the U.S., there are some endemic problems with mobile phone solutions. That's especially true for the people who spend the healthcare dollars -- the people entering the hospitals (which is the market MedApps is going after).

There are problems with mobile phones whether the target is a senior population or a Medicare/Medicaid indigent population. There is an "unused or abused" rule that goes with that market strategy:  If you give a smartphone to a senior population, it may or may not get used. If you bring a cell phone into a household, it may get used for personal health or it may get abused for voice, text messages or music download services.

Those issues aside, using a mobile phone platform helped us realize that we didn't want to be at the whim of mobile phone makers. There were several examples in the past of healthcare organizations that built cases for commercially available phones that had glucose monitors built into them. Of course, handset makers change their platforms. It's the same for mobile app developers in healthcare: When you try to put applications on cell phones, you have to chase more than 250 different cell phone models and multiple platforms to do it. We use our own platform, the MedApps platform, and we spend a tenth of what other companies spend who are chasing around cell phone platforms.

So, you have found that the dedicated device helps to reduce costs, too.

Yes, in order to control healthcare costs, we need to control our platform. Instead of having to adapt to every new platform that comes out, we use a single purpose device or personal health device (PHD) that sends personal health information (PHI) into the personal health record (PHR). That's what we are doing at MedApps: We are creating a platform that is dedicated solely to collecting personal health information, behavioral information and biometric information to send it to a central server in an invisible way so that the user doesn't have to press any buttons. If the user misses any data, HealthPAL will alert them to send the data or it will alert a caregiver.