Mayo Clinic Introduces Two Consumer Mobile Applications

Mayo Clinic is launching two research-based consumer applications (apps) for iPhone and iPod Touch this quarter, the first in a variety of mobile health products and services supporting the goal of making Mayo’s expertise available to anyone, anywhere, anytime.

Mayo Clinic Symptom Checker, which launches today, provides users with focused, useful and actionable information from Mayo Clinic experts. User research dictated the simple, less-is-more nature of both the app design and its content. The free app features an adult and child symptom checker optimized for the mobile experience. It is designed to help people manage acute problems and provides guidance on practicing self-care at home, as well as insights into when additional care is needed. Mayo Clinic Symptom Checker also enables users to search MayoClinic.com for more information about thousands of health topics, and provides access to information about care at Mayo Clinic. Mayo’s approach was to apply user research to guide the first release and then get it into the hands of users as soon as possible. Feedback from users will guide the priorities for future releases. For a demonstration, go to Mayo Clinic News Blog.

Another app, Mayo Clinic Meditation, launched in early January and provides a form of alternative medicine that focuses on the mind-body connection. The app, which is currently available for $2.99 on iTunes, is based on four years of research by Amit Sood, M.D., a physician in complementary and integrative medicine at Mayo, and has been clinically validated by Mayo Clinic. Mind-body techniques strengthen the communication between your mind and body. Integrative medicine practitioners say these two systems must be in harmony for a person to stay healthy. The easy-to-use app can be practiced in the home, office or any quiet place.

While these first two applications are for consumers, Mayo Clinic envisions developing meaningful mobile health offerings for audiences that include patients, consumers, corporate clients, medical professionals, and academia. Some mobile products and services will be designed for use before, during, and after care at Mayo Clinic. Others will provide mobile enhancements and expanded distribution for Mayo Clinic’s many existing products and services. Ultimately, Mayo’s mobile health strategy will be a mix of native and mobile Web applications available across a variety of handsets and platforms.

“We are diligently focused on understanding the intricacies of a mobile platform and the needs and desires of users,” says Scott Eising, director of Advanced Market/Product Development at Mayo Clinic. “We intend to pair our expertise in health care with our growing understanding of the mobile world to develop products and services that are optimized for the mobile audience.”

For more information on Mayo Clinic’s mobile health applications, visit Mayo Clinic News Blog.

Protecting Your Virtual Privacy – Health Information

TEL AVIV – The details of your personal life, such as grocery purchases and pizza topping preferences, are collected every day — online and by club and discount cards from the gym, department store and supermarket. Though this data seems innocent enough, when it’s put together it can tell a whole lot about your health, finances and behavior. That information, a Tel Aviv University researcher reminds us, could eventually be used against you.

Dr. Michael Birnhack of TAU’s Faculty of Law and Prof. Niva Elkin-Koren from the University of Haifa recently completed a comprehensive study on information privacy laws in Israel and found compelling reasons for lawmakers everywhere to take notice. “Our research from Israel can serve as a case study of the shortcomings of a comprehensive data protection program,” says Dr. Birnhack.

“It’s not just sites like Facebook and Twitter that should cause concern,” he continues. “It’s all the trivial things that are collected about us that we’re not protected against.”

The process can be seductive: information collected by websites has benefits, too. Based on previous purchase and search queries, Amazon can recommend books for readers “just like you.” But in the wrong hands, similar information collected by Web sites and discount card companies could be used by health insurance organizations to boost premiums or by employers trying to figure out how many sick days you’ll be taking each year. It could even make or break your chances of landing that new job, Dr. Birnhack says.

A health insurance provider doesn’t need to see your medical records to understand the state of your family’s health. It can learn just as much by looking at your grocery bill. “If you use a discount card at a supermarket, information on your purchases is added to a database. If you shop for halal or kosher products, your religion can be inferred, and the purchases of fatty or gluten-free foods can provide an indicator of your family’s overall health.”

Federal legislation in the U.S. regulates for some 15 different kinds of specific data sets, such as health data and credit histories, but not for information collected by club and discount cards or by commercial Web sites. And it’s more difficult to write a law to secure confidentiality in those areas, says Dr. Birnhack.

“Unless there are specific laws in place, this personal digital information is up for grabs. It can be bought and sold between governments and private companies, which can then conduct data mining and analysis on it and sell the results to third parties,” he explains.

Like Europe, Canada has a universal informational privacy policy, but U.S. data collection and dissemination regulation is more limited. Justice system lawyers are currently debating the issue of informational privacy, and Dr. Birnhack suggests that they look to Canada’s law as a good way to protect privacy. “Canada has the best data protection regime in the world,” he says. “It’s very powerful.”

In conducting their research, Birnhack and Elkin-Koren examined close to 1,400 Israeli websites and their privacy statements and attempted to discern whether or not the sites complied with the law. They then reported their findings reported on the Social Science Research Network (SSRN) website in a paper available at http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1456968.

Even though Israeli law requires them to do so, a significant number of sites don’t state that they are collecting this information, while a majority of popular commercial sites reserve the right to change their privacy policies at any time. This means that data is up for grabs.

“Legislators should be aware of how easy it is to collect personal information about citizens to start building more protective laws,” Dr. Birnhack concludes.

The Emergence of E-Patients

Fresh on the heels of the Health 2.0 conference in San Francisco, a renewed spotlight is shining on empowered “e-patients.” The convention was a showcase for a myriad of online and mobile tools which enable patients to engage in their health and their lives in ways not previously feasible.

But who are these “e-patients,” and do they represent a significant segment of the population? A common belief among physicians is that “e-patients” are a minority of motivated people, but do not represent the bulk of the patients being attended. Is this true? A sentinel report describes e-patients, and what the term means, in some detail.

A recent report by the Pew Internet Project describes the rise of the e-patient. A rapidly growing segment of the population is using Internet and other e-tools for access to health information: 61% of the total population, and 83% of the online population, use the Internet for querying about health information. It is widespread across genders and ethnicities: 64% of men and 57% of women; 65% of whites, 51% of blacks, and 44% of Hispanics use the Internet this way. There is a skewing toward upscale and educated users, and towards parents of young children. Over the past few years, e-patients have become high-speed (using broadband 88% of the time), and mobile (using wireless 89% of the time). E-patients are also more likely to use social media, and build online networks of “patients like me” to discuss their health conditions, find out about resources, or simply vent their frustrations or experiences with the delivery system.

As consumers, e-patients have used the Internet to find out about the health delivery system as purchasers of service: 47% have looked up information about doctors; 38% have gotten information about hospitals; 33% about how to lose weight; 27% about health insurance; 12% about how to stay healthy during overseas travel.

Clearly, as technology has evolved and delivered fast, meaningful, mobile and low-cost (or free) tools, patients are becoming “e-patients.” They are engaging the health delivery establishment in a new way, in what can be described as Participatory Medicine.

Is there a direction towards which this development of “e-patients” and Participatory Medicine is heading? Are there platforms that are in a position to enable this direction? Patients, as consumers, are gathering information themselves over the Internet (sometimes from trusted sources, sometimes from questionable sources), and are forming communities among themselves in order to find meaning, support, and experience in making health decisions. Engagement with physicians, and other health care providers, is the logical next step in this evolution. Health professionals, when actively engaged in the networks that patients are creating anyway, can provide context and meaning.

Practice Fusion is building a platform that will enable this evolution in health care. By building a physician-facing Electronic Health Record (EHR) system that is able to seamlessly share clinical charts between clinicians taking care of the same patient, and by building a patient-facing Personal Health Record (PHR) that is automatically filled and updated real-time by the physician’s EHR, the level of interaction between patients and their clinicians can reach levels not previously witnessed. The consumer-friendly Health Internet, which is still a dream in practicality, is something that the Practice Fusion platform will be able to achieve in the very near future. With widespread adoption of this approach, and with connectivity between many different constituencies and trusted services, the impact on the health of the country can be measurably improved. That is the vision with which we build these tools. — end

NOTE: GE E-Care is the first on-line medical entity in California catering to E-Patients and engaging in complete Tele-medicine techniques.  This site details the care plan.