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Jul 26

didgetNine years ago, Paul Wessel made a simple connection. His young son, Luke, suffered from Type 1 Diabetes, a condition requiring several glucose readings per day. In order to take these measurements, a small blood sample was fed into a colorful handheld reader that theoretically, was simple enough for a child to use, and appealing enough for a child to want to use it.

However, Luke seemed less than enthusiastic about keeping tabs on his readings. “At about age six Luke began losing his glucose meter way too often,” Wessel related in a 2003 interview. “But he knew exactly where his GAMEBOY was, even if it was under the sofa. So I thought - Why not combine the two devices into one?”

Today, Wessel’s idea has developed into a commercial product due to be released in the U.K., the Bayer Didget. The Didget is a glucose meter modeled off of Bayer’s Contour meter and features a sleek design reminiscent of the iPod. After plugging the meter into a port on a Nintendo DS game system, a diabetic patient can translate consistent glucose readings into videogame prizes, including unlockable arcade-style games in which players can repel alien spaceships. Additionally, the Didget provides access to an online community of other Didget users, fusing the addictive nature of handheld videogames with peer support and additional extrinsic motivation.

The Didget has raised considerable buzz in both the realm of tech-gadget related blogs and the online diabetic community; Wessel seems to have tapped into a need that Bayer failed to initially factor into its product. Designing and marketing an effective glucose reader is merely the first step; convincing a child to actually maintain a regular testing schedule is another. Wessel’s first crack at combining entertainment and medicine was the Glucoboy, released in the Australian market in 2007 after three years of legal wrangling with Nintendo. A clear precursor to the Didget, the Glucboy became the first piece of medical hardware licensed to interface with the Gameboy, and was even covered under most Australian insurance policies. Wessel’s new product sports a sleeker look and a more sophisticated design, with customizable settings permitting older users to adjust their HI/LO blood glucose target range and set daily alarms, as well as a child-friendly “basic” mode.

Far from the days of badgering young patients into paying even the most cursory attention to their readings, Bayer and Wessel count on kids being so engaged that they run the risk of over-testing. In fact, a maximum limit of readings per day is programmed into the game.

While the marketplace success of the Didget still remains to be seen, Jim Wessel and his new meter provide a great example of what’s possible from empowered caregivers, and offers a glimpse into the future of health devices that are mobile, social, and drive motivation.

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Jul 17

damleAsh Damle, the founder of MEDgle, is a rare breed. He’s a code-slinging, patent-holding, MIT-grad but he’s no nerd. His natural social skills would put most sales people to shame. I first met him at the Health 2.0 Boston conference as I waited for the Hello Health demo session to begin. I was in the back of the room with a frustrated, cranky crowd–not enough chairs, the session was late, lunch was inedible, black-shirted Hello Health youth marched through the group and stepped on our feet…

Then suddenly a friendly guy strolls through the door smiling, looking everyone in the eye as he walked past and announces to nobody in particular, “Pretty crowded in here…I just got in from a red eye.” Within minutes our little group was chatting, actually laughing, and of course I soon got “Hi I’m Ash, who you with?”

MEDgle’s flagship site is MEDgle.com which is a personalized medical search engine. But unlike other search engines, MEDgle uses an expert system that connects 7000 symptoms to 2000 diagnoses and factors in personal information like age, gender, and lifestyles.

While MEDgle, and Ash, are well known in the Health 2.0 crowd I don’t think this company is getting the attention they deserve in the wider community. A strong, unique technology poised perfectly for the booming EHR/PHR space, or a strong addition to any of the large health publishers. I caught up with Ash shortly after the conference…

medgle12Krū Research: Who is MEDgle for and what does it do?

Ash Damle:  We really want to help people understand their medical options. MEDgle is for anybody who has a symptom or was told a diagnosis, who wants to understand what that actually means and potentially what the next steps are.

Krū: Is this built with your own in-house technology or is this built on top of another search platform?

Ash:  This is our home grown technology which provides a strong base for a different type of search.  We are now going to be marrying it with the semantic analysis stuff we also developed.

medgle2Krū:  I see I can chat with eNurse Kim. Is this a bot or a live chat application?

Ash:  This is a purely virtual nurse. It’s basically the MEDgle platform but in a conversational format. This is one way to get the power of MEDgle to more people, to make it more accessible.

Krū:  And you also have a site called HealthierMee.

Ash:  HealthierMee uses the same MEDgle engine but instead of looking for a particular symptom or diagnosis, it’s about taking you as the query and telling you what you are at risk for and what you can do about it.

Basically it takes your height, your weight, your age, your lifestyle…family history and comes back to what we call a fit score. We identify what things have exacerbated your risks and specifically what’s the biggest bank for your buck for improving your fit score.

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Krū:  Is this something similar to the Real Age Quiz?

Ash:  Very much so but instead of a real long list of questions you kind of get your answers a bit faster.  [Laughs] Second of all, we took a much more scientific approach to the whole issue in terms of what’s going on with their health and as they continue with their current health trajectory, what does it look over the next five, ten, fifteen years.

Krū:  Tell me about the MEDgle widget.

Ash:  The widget enables people to put MEDgle on their own website and have people access it in sort of a quick pop-up window.  It’s one of our experiments, like the eNurse, to try to make it even easier to deploy the MEDgle platform.

Krū:  Now let’s talk about the business side of things. How are you funded?

Ash:  We are self funded. I think it’s important to build something initially with real value and it’s very important to find the right partner VC partner-it’s not so much the money per say but finding the right partner for the long term perspective.

Krū:  What’s your business model?

Ash:  We have a premium type model where we offer a base set of functionality that everyone can use and obviously for those who are interested we can offer additional services.  We license our API. It’s not yet publicly available but it’s being offered to select companies who are interested. We licensed it to the folks at Hello Health.

Krū:  Who would you consider your competition?

Ash:  There are a lot of people focused on general web health search, or people focused on creating thousands of articles. I don’t know anyone who has the approach we have in terms of focusing on how everything connects. And creating the algorithms and knowing the probabilities necessary to make those connections for an individual.

Krū:  The ability to connect to relevant data is the key.

Ash:  Exactly. What we really focus on is how everything connects. What are all the probabilities and algorithms needed to give relevant accurate answers? An EHR or PHR company can come to us to help transform their interfaces to make them much more assistive and intelligent for both the health care providers as well as their consumers.

Krū:  Your focus is more B2B than B2C but have you had much traffic to Medgle.com?

Ash:  We did about 200,000 people last month, 600,000 page views. We haven’t really done any for advertising or anything there but people seem to find what we had and like it.

Krū:  Are there opportunities for Medgle to partner with pharmaceutical companies?

Ash:  We are very excited about working with Pharma in a way that adds value to both the company as well as the consumer.

One way would be for Pharma to advertise on Medgle because the ads would only appear in places that makes sense–only within the context of this particular disease or this particular age group or a particular lifestyle. We understand all those pieces and therefore can help them do a better job with their targeted advertising. And our system also understands the issues around comorbidities. We get those connections and are enhancing our API to deal with this type of thing.

Krū: Ash, thanks for the time and keep us posted.

Ash: Thanks.

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Jul 09

pr_cover1I just released our newest white paper, Patients Rising: How to Reach Empowered, Digital Health Consumers.

Download here: http://bit.ly/VDDvp