Apps for Health 2015 in Review

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By Elizabeth Thorsen, Program Manager at Innovation Factory

AppsforHealthOn April 30, I had the pleasure of attending Apps for Health; a one-day conference hosted at Mohawk College, which focused on emerging trends in the mobile health industry. The conference was an interesting mix of entrepreneurs, healthcare professionals, and tech enthusiasts alike, united by their passion for change. From the keynote addresses to the individual sessions, tech demos, and the trade show, it is clear that the face of healthcare is changing significantly.

Here are my top 5 takeaways from the conference:


Dr. Anne Cavoukian, former Privacy Commissioner of Ontario and current Executive Director at the Privacy & Big Data Institute at Ryerson University spoke about the importance of technology in healthcare, but not at the expense of an individual’s privacy.

When consumers purchase a device like an activity tracker, or fitness app, they don’t inherently think about the privacy of their personal information, and that can result in their information being shared with third parties without their informed consent.

Dr. Cavoukian argued that privacy should not be something that defaults to ‘off’ in health tech, but rather privacy should be embedded by design to meet both legal and ethical guidelines.

Wearable Tech:

The closing keynote speaker was Tom Emrich, founder of We Are Wearables – a group with multiple chapters internationally aimed at uniting the tech community to focus on the wearable tech space.

Tom spoke about his personal interest in wearable tech, but also examined the ways consumers interact with their tech, and its’ future potential applications in the healthcare industry.

Right now, we are in the first of three stages of wearable tech – the metrics tracking stage. We want to know our heart rate, our oxygen saturation percentage, our number of steps taken and calories burned in a day, but mostly for the purpose of cataloguing these numbers for our own goals or use.

Moving forward, Tom believes we will move out of this data collection stage to become more informed about our bodies and health, and as such we will start to use wearable tech as a diagnostic tool, or even use them as treatments for certain ailments.

Innovate or DIE:

When you think of innovative companies, or large corporations with a reputation for innovation, odds are you don’t think of anyone in the healthcare industry, but rather companies like Google or a tech startup. These are companies who have faced a tonne of competition and have had to learn to innovate, or perish.

Hospitals are necessary to our survival and well-being, so unlike the tech companies listed above, they haven’t needed to innovate to stay competitive. They have a monopoly on the industry, and a growing market.

But innovation is absolutely necessary in a world with a changing face of healthcare, and a world moving more towards tech in all industries including health. Hospitals, and other companies in healthcare need to foster a culture of innovation from within, and use that to advance by creating an environment that is constantly looking for a better way of doing things. It is through this that they will maintain profitability and relevance.

There are a LOT of emerging mobile health ideas:

I took the time not only to visit the trade show booths at Apps 4 Health, but also to attend mHealth DemoCamp. To say that there are a lot of emerging ideas, products, and companies in the mobile health space would be a tremendous understatement.

From an app to teach children with Autism street smarts and prevent them from wandering (Special Appucations), to an improved scale for measuring and tracking pain (PainQuILT), to a one-stop overview which can track hospital bed occupancy and patient status at a glance to free up time for busy nurses (Shift Alerts), there are some great ideas and products set to revolutionize the healthcare industry.

Support for Entrepreneurs:

20150430_094040Throughout the conference, one theme kept reemerging: there is a ton of support out there for entrepreneurs. At the conference, I met individuals from the City of Hamilton, from different hospitals and healthcare providers, educational institutions like McMaster and Mohawk College, and other experts in the life sciences willing to take on mentorship and advisory roles to help entrepreneurs succeed.

In addition, a panel discussion featured members from Spectrum and Surge (McMaster and Mohawk’s on-campus entrepreneurship support groups respectively), Ontario Centres of Excellence (a government initiative aimed at helping to co-fund early stage startups to get them to market), and the Forge (a campus linked accelerator where McMaster University and Innovation Factory help youths aged 18-29 to accelerate the growth of their startup companies). If there’s one thing entrepreneurs aren’t lacking in mobile health, it’s the many supports available to them, and I’m thrilled to be a part of that support system through Innovation Factory.



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