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mHealth News: Grandma Wins “Apps Against Abuse” Tech Challenge

There aren’t too many grandmothers developing mobile health apps these days, but I met a charming one (Jill Campbell) at the mHealth Summit yesterday. Jill is a 60 year-old woman from Texas who has been actively concerned for the safety of herself and her daughter over the years.

“My daughter took a self-defense class,” Jill explained, “And she was taught the ‘fight or flight’ response to escape harm. I’m 60 years old. I’m not good at fighting and not very fast at fleeing. So what’s my third option?” Jill created the WatchMe 911 app to provide the solution.

“I first started thinking about a personal alarm system before smart phones even existed. I saw that there were car alarms and house alarms, and wondered why there weren’t personal alarms. At the time I imagined that the personal alarm would go through an answering service system, but since smart phones were created, it can all be tied together in an app format.”

Jill demonstrated the WatchMe 911 app to me during our interview. It contains features such as a panic button that can be armed in advance. Two taps on the smart phone screen and a circle of friends and 9-1-1 are contacted immediately with your GPS location and an alert message. The panic button is a favorite for women who are concerned for their safety when walking late at night or in dimly lit parking lots or alleys.

The “Monitor Me” feature allows the user to schedule messages to friends in advance of a potentially dangerous situation. The message will be sent at a specific time unless disarmed by the user. This is helpful in situations where, for example, a user is out for a run without their phone and might become injured or threatened. They can set the alarm to send out a call for help to friends, with a pre-programmed description of the trail that they’re on. This feature is also popular during blind dates when users would like their friends to check in with them at a certain time.

WatchMe 911 also contains a simple “call 9-1-1″ button, a check-in button (that reminds me of a combination of  FourSquare and Twitter), and allows select groups of people to join a “neighborhood watch” type network to support friends who might need help. There is a campus version of WatchMe 911, called OnWatch that is modified for college students, allowing them to connect with campus police, for example.

Although the WatchMe 911 app only launched in September of this year, its sister program (OnWatch) has already won the Apps Against Abuse Technology Challenge, sponsored by the Office of the Vice President, the White House Office of Science and Technology, and the Department of Health and Human Services.

Jill told me that WatchMe 911 is available for free download on iTunes now, with in-app purchase fees ranging from $5.99/month to $99.99/year. Call 911 feature is always free. Users are offered a 30-day FREE trial of the entire app.

OnWatch will be available for free download on iTunes in Q1 2012. Users with a dot edu address will receive a free 90-day trial of the entire app. Android versions of both apps are currently being engineered and will follow shortly.

Although my one concern about these apps is the potential for false alarms (I can imagine how annoying it could be for forgetful joggers to send out unintentional, automated alerts to friends), I believe that version 2.0 of WatchMe 911 could provide revolutionary real-time aggregated data to law enforcement. Nation-wide and local crime hot-spots could be identified easily from users who opt-in to share their alerts, allowing police to allocate resources more effectively – deterring violent crimes before they even occur.

I hope this app gets the traction it deserves, because the potential for benefit is incredibly large. And for all the other women and grandmas out there who are looking for an alternative to “fight or flight” this may well be your ticket.

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Missed this year’s mHealth Summit? Presentations are available for viewing here.


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One Response to “mHealth News: Grandma Wins “Apps Against Abuse” Tech Challenge”

  1. jason @ cinnamon agency says:

    As you say, false alarms are the one thing that worry me about what is otherwise an excellent app!

    My daughter rings me accidentally at least 4 times a week, so a gentle screen tap and the police will be out in force for no reason!

    This is available only toi people who don’t remember or don’t know how to lock their phones!

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Richmond, VA – In an effort to simplify inpatient medical billing, one area hospitalist group has determined that “altered mental status” (ICD-9 780.97) is the most efficient code for use in any patient work up.

“When you enter a hospital, you’re bound to have some kind of mental status change,” said Dr. Fishbinder, co-partner of Area Hospitalists, PLLC. “Whether it’s confusion about where your room is located in relationship to the visitor’s parking structure, frustration with being woken up every hour or two to check your vital signs, or just plain old fatigue from being sick, you are not thinking as clearly as before you were admitted. And that’s all the justification we need to order anything from drug and toxin screens, to blood cultures, brain MRIs, tagged red blood cell nuclear scans, or cardiac Holter monitoring. There really is no limit to what we can pursue with our tests.”

Common causes of mental status changes in the elderly include medicine-induced cognitive side effects, disorientation due to disruption in daily routines, age-related memory impairment, and urinary tract infections.

“The urinalysis is not a very exciting medical test,” stated Dr. Fishbinder. “It doesn’t matter that it’s cheap, fast, and most likely to provide an explanation for strange behavior in hospitalized patients. It’s really not as elegant as the testing involved in a chronic anemia or metabolic encephalopathy work up. I keep it in my back pocket in case all other tests are negative, including brain MRIs and PET scans.”

Nursing staff at Richmond Medical Hospital report that efforts to inform hospitalists about foul smelling urine have generally fallen on deaf ears. “I have tried to tell the hospitalists about cloudy or bloody urine that I see in patients who are undergoing extensive work ups for mental status changes,” reports nurse Sandy Anderson. “But they insist that ‘all urine smells bad’ and it’s really more of a red herring.”

Another nurse reports that delay in diagnosing urinary tract infections (while patients are scheduled for brain MRIs, nuclear scans, and biopsies) can lead to worsening symptoms which accelerate and expand testing. “Some of my patients are transferred to the ICU during the altered mental status work up,” states nurse Anita Misra. “The doctors seem to be very excited about the additional technology available to them in the intensive care setting. Between the central line placement, arterial blood gasses, and vast array of IV fluid and medication options, urosepsis is really an excellent entré into a whole new level of care.”

“As far as medicine-induced mental status changes are concerned,” added Dr. Fishbinder, “We’ve never seen a single case in the past 10 years. Today’s patients are incredibly resilient and can tolerate mixes of opioids, anti-depressants, anti-histamines, and benzodiazepines without any difficulty. We know this because most patients have been prescribed these cocktails and have been taking them for years.”

Patient family members have expressed gratitude for Dr. Fishbinder’s diagnostic process, and report that they are very pleased that he is doing everything in his power to “get to the bottom” of why their loved one isn’t as sharp as they used to be.

“I thought my mom was acting strange ever since she started taking stronger pain medicine for her arthritis,” says Nelly Hurtong, the daughter of one of Dr. Fishbinder’s inpatients. “But now I see that there are deeper reasons for her ‘altered mental status’ thanks to the brain MRI that showed some mild generalized atrophy.”

Hospital administrators praise Dr. Fishbinder as one of their top physicians. “He will do whatever it takes to figure out the true cause of patients’ cognitive impairments.” Says CEO, Daniel Griffiths. “And not only is that good medicine, it is great for our Press Ganey scores and our bottom line.”

As for the nursing staff, Griffiths offered a less glowing review. “It’s unfortunate that our nurses seem preoccupied with urine testing and medication reconciliation. I think it might be time for us to mandate further training to help them appreciate more of the medical nuances inherent in quality patient care.”

Dr. Fishbinder is in the process of creating a half-day seminar on ‘altered mental status in the inpatient setting,’ offering CME credits to physicians who enroll. Richmond Medical Hospital intends to sponsor Dr. Fishbinder’s course, and franchise it to other hospitals in the state, and ultimately nationally.

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