By Stephen Spotswood
SAN CARLOS, CA — A mobile health application that helps families manage their healthcare is the grand-prizewinner of the HHS Healthfinder.gov Mobile App Challenge.
The San Carlos-based mobile technology development company, Lyfechannel, was awarded $50,000 in May for its myfamily app, which focuses on the preventive care benefits covered under the Affordable Care Act.
The mindset behind the Mobile App Challenge was that engaging a group of tech providers to find ways to solve a problem — in this case empowering families to manage their own healthcare on a mobile platform — would yield better results than if HHS were to hire programmers.
“Our expertise is in translating patient studies and academic research into how to change behavior in people with chronic diseases and then translating that information into a mobile experience,” explained Lyfechannel CEO Dave Vockell. “Healthfinder.gov has a pretty deep library of evidence-based recommendations for any person. And HHS has identified that there’s been a shift in consumer behavior. They engage content differently through a phone than through a website. The fastest way to get that content into the hands of consumers is essentially doing an open RFP — a challenge to anyone who does tech development to solve that problem.”
Lyfechannel, founded less than two years ago, has previously focused on chronic disease management delivered through mobile devices. The company is currently developing applications that allow patients suffering from diabetes, COPD or cardiovascular disease to monitor symptoms and track their efforts to improve their conditions.
What sets Lyfechannel apart from its peers, Vockell suggested, is a deeper focus on how the average person or family actually engages with technology and with health information.
To lay the groundwork for how myfamily should function, Lyfechannel’s team traveled outside the environs of San Francisco, where the general population is more health conscious than elsewhere, and set up shop in a “dollar store” parking lot. There, they interviewed 200 people in charge of their family’s health.
“What we found was that rich and poor and ethnicity weren’t big dividers between how effective the chief health officer of a family is,” Vockell said. “It’s an extremely complex task regardless of the [socioeconomics].”
The research team discovered that chief health officers did not want “another way to do research or to solve five years worth of their family’s health problems all at once.” What they wanted most was to know what they should be focusing on next for each family member.
The core service of the myfamily app is built around the creation of health recommendations for each family member. This allows families to create health to-do lists.
“We don’t expect you to do all 50 things, but for yourself, your spouse, your kids — you can pick one or two things to get done that month,” Vockell said. “And once those are completed, the app creates a running record of the activities you’ve knocked off. So when you go to the doctor next, you can show it to him.”
In an updated version due out this summer, myfamily will be able to integrate with a number of electronic health records. Physicians will be able to see completed health-related activities in real-time on the patient’s record. They can then integrate that knowledge into the exam the next time they see that patient.
Because the focus of the app is on preventive measures covered by the Affordable Care Act, almost all of the recommendations should be covered by insurance with a mostly minimal copay, Vockell said.
HHS will help promote the application and has reached out to a number of hospital groups to determine the best way to integrate this app into the health experience of their patients.
The current version was released in mid-April for the iPhone. A version for Android is due for release in July.
Lyfechannel also will launch its four disease-specific pilot apps (diabetes, prediabetes, COPD and cardiovascular disease) in June and July. Vockell said he and his fellow designers hope to make the experience of preventive healthcare more fun and less like homework.
“You go to your doctor and they say, ‘You really have to cut the salt out of your diet.’ The best they do is give you a few handouts with a couple dozen bullet points,” he said. “We’re trying to evolve that to, ‘I have a program that you can participate in at the rate you want to participate.’” www.lyfechannel.com