In Growing Mobile Health Market, New App Vida Addresses Chronic Issues

Asa Mathat

In the growing mobile health market, it seems like there is an app for everything: Logging your food, measuring your glucose levels, even “seeing” a doctor via video chat, are all possible with a few flicks on your iPhone.

Now, a Silicon Valley veteran and a former Kaiser Permanente physician are teaming up to bring a new health app to market, one focused on continuous care and chronic issues.

The app, called Vida, is meant to be the digital equivalent of a weekly visit with a doctor or therapist to address long-term health problems, said co-founder Stephanie Tilenius. These longitudinal health issues could range from breast cancer recovery needs to chronic arthritis to marathon training and weight-loss goals.

“If you were to do this in a real world versus the virtual world, a regular weekly appointment might cost you $150 an hour,” Tilenius said. “Then, if you’re talking about 24/7 care, it gets really, really expensive.” Vida, on the other hand, is free to download, and costs $15 per week for regular “checkups” and health coaching.

Tilenius, who founded Planet Rx and held executive roles at eBay and Google before becoming an executive-in-residence at Kleiner Perkins, demoed the Vida app onstage today at the Code Mobile conference in Half Moon Bay, Calif.

Co-founder Connie Chen’s background is equally impressive: She is a primary care physician who has held roles as a network manager at HealthTap, as an innovation specialist at Kaiser Permanente, and as the medical director of Stanford University’s startup fund, StartX.

Vida co-founder Stephanie Tilenius gives a demo of the new iPhone app.

Asa Mathat Vida co-founder Stephanie Tilenius gives a demo of the new iPhone app.

During the demo, Tilenius played the part of a leukemia patient named “Sandy,” and showed how she could use Vida to connect with a health coach, in this case, Chen. By answering some simple questions about her health goals and the type of coach she’s looking for, Vida was able to provide recommendations for a health-care professional. After making a selection, Sandy was then able to exchange text messages and hold video calls with her coach.

The app launches today, and is initially only available on iPhone. Tilenius and Chen’s business strategy is twofold: Vida will be marketed to consumers, but can also be a business-to-business product that companies can include as part of benefits packages.

The information and health coaching available through Vida, which is HIPAA-compliant, is based on clinical research, Tilenius and Chen say. So, for example, Vida programs for patients recovering from cancer and heart attacks will be approved through clinical studies starting soon at MD Anderson Cancer Center and Duke University Hospital.

But what Vida doesn’t do is connect you directly with doctors — at least, not yet. So it’s likely that a Vida user will be seeing a primary care physician or specialist outside of the Vida experience, and then using the app to supplement that care.

Other apps, such as American Well, Doctor on Demand and myMD, offer medical consultations with physicians via video chat, while a health app that we showcased at an earlier conference, called Better, aims to put a personal health assistant (in this case, a registered nurse) in users’ pockets. And these are just a handful of the many, many health apps, often categorized as mHealth, that are now available.

By one estimate, the global mobile health market is expected to hit $49 billion by 2020, driven simultaneously by smartphone adoption (and other wearable sensors) and by increasing health-care costs. The same report says that rising incidences of chronic diseases such as cancer, heart ailments and diabetes are also a key contributor to growing demand.

Consumers seem optimistic about the potential for mHealth: According to a recent report from PwC, 52 percent of adult patients surveyed said that mHealth apps and services will make health care “substantially more convenient,” while 59 percent said it will significantly change the way they seek information on health-care issues.

Health application layers such as Apple’s HealthKit, which Vida will work with, are striving to create a repository where every bit of a person’s health info can be stored and shared with doctors and hospital networks.

But in the world of electronic health records, mobile health data (not to mention insurance networks) is currently still a complicated, and often segregated, labyrinth of systems. Privacy concerns also abound when it comes to the sharing of digital health data. And while mobile phones are becoming the conduit for critical information around health and other issues, they aren’t the cure themselves.

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