Citizen science and patient data with uMotif

The founders of uMotif, a software platform that allows patients with long-term conditions to record information relating to their health, are seeking to simultaneously create a social impact and a big business. Chief executive Bruce Hellman tells Toni Sekinah how they are doing that and about the massive citizen science project they will soon be launching.


Is it true that some people can feel it in their bones when bad weather is on the way?

Bruce Hellman is hoping to find out through one the projects of his healthtech software platform uMotif.

A small group of patients in Manchester with rheumatoid arthritis are using the uMotif app to record the stiffness and swelling in their joints. This data is being correlated with the weather datain the patient’s local area to see if there is indeed a link between weather and joint pain.

“We’ll do a mashup that answers that old wives’ tales. For the first time we’ll be able to scientifically show whether people’s joints swell when it rains or knees stiffen when the pressure goes up or down,” says Hellman.

When the patient goes for their next appointment, they’ll be able to show their health practitioner an accurate record of the severity of the symptoms since they last saw them.

This is one of the main aims of uMotif. The mobile and web app allows patients with ongoing conditions such as Parkinson’s disease and diabetes to track the data of different aspects of their health.

This empowers them to manage their own care and monitor their conditions. The information can also be shared with their clinician who then has a clearer idea of how their patients are doing between appointments.

“We can bank online, shop online, book flights online. It is unbelievable and astounding that in 2015 you can get discharged from hospital with no digital journey. It’s what we’d expect from every other industry so that’s the gap we’re hoping to fill,” says Hellman.

The uMotif platform is modular and so can be customised for patient groups with 13 different clinical conditions. “It’s built like a Lego building kit,” explains Hellman. “We can take different blocks or modules and set those up in different ways for different clients.”

He gives the example of Parkinson’s for which the platform will track tremors and fluidity while for people recovering from heart failure uMotif tracks dizziness and breathlessness.

“The unique uMotif interface is nice, bright and visual and this allows you to score yourself subjectively on aspects of daily health,” says Hellman.

The user inputs this information by swiping their finger across a petal of uMotif’s flower icon. Each petal records a different aspect of health such as energy level, weight, blood pressure or sleep quality. uMotif runs on the LAMP stack, is written in PHP and uses the MySQL database.

Hellman stresses the fact that the patients are the owners of their data. “Data is not being sold off to insurers or for ad retargeting because that’s just not cool.”

“What is common to almost all patients is the need to follow some sort of regime; doing your exercises, taking your medication, doing your meditation,” he says.

uMotif helps patients to stick to their regimes by setting off alarms to remind them to take their medication.

“Every year in Europe 100,000 people die because of not taking their meds and the financial costs are huge,” says Hellman.

uMotif can also connect with sensors and wearable technology devices to capture information like number of steps taken and hours of deep sleep but this is completely optional. “One patient may have a Fitbit tracker and would love to be able to bring in their number of steps and compare that with their mood and other people would not want that at all.”

Hellman falls into the category of a wearable wearer. When his son was born three years ago, he wanted to see how badly the little one affected his own sleep. He did this with devices like the Fitbit and Jawbone and this sparked ideas for other forms of health tracking.

At a nursery Christmas party he met Ben James, the father of one of his son’s playmates, who happens to be a programmer and designer. Together they developed the ideas Hellman had come up with about health tracking.

In 2012 the two encountered The Cure Parkinson’s Trust, a charity with the mission to find a cure for Parkinson’s and realised the technology they had for general health tracking could really help people who are managing a serious condition.

With a grant of £75,000 from the Small Business Research Initiative they built their first prototype and worked with a group of patients from the charity.

“So rather than being fairly generic and broad for everyone, we focused on people with chronic and serious health conditions and thought about how we could create technology that helps them better manage their condition, improve their quality of life and treatment outcomes,” Hellman says.

The uMotif team has grown to 13 people and includes doctors, designers, computer programmers and business professionals. Dr Rashmi Narayana, who Hellman met while doing a part-time MBA at Imperial College London is the clinical and evidence director. “It’s important to have a doctor in the team. It brings everything back to patients and clinical impact,” says Hellman.

The app is free for patients but the public or private healthcare provider has to buy a license from uMotif.

Most of those healthcare providers are trusts in the UK such as Liverpool Chest and Heart Hospital and St George’s Healthcare in south London but there are also clients in the UK and Australia.

uMotif works with 45 healthcare providers in total who can put their badge on their version of the app and choose which modules they want for their patients.

uMotif is also working with tech giant Philips in Chester and Bristol to deploy a more general health tracking version of the platform for people who are not managing a long-term condition. “There are things that are common to everybody – keeping track of how you are doing, setting yourself goals and achieving them,” Hellman says.

On a grander scale, in November uMotif will be launching a global citizen science project. “It’s for everybody to participate in, whether you are managing a condition or not. We’re aiming for 100,000 people to use our app and their wearable device to track themselves for 100 days.” The goal is for people to learn important stuff about themselves and donate their data for free to academic research.

“There will be a data set of 10 million person days and researchers across the world will hopefully be able to unlock some new insights about health and health self-management,” says Hellman.

In spite of the fact that such a project could spur health benefits and insights for people all over the world Hellman emphasises the focus that uMotif places on assisting the individual.

“The thing that is quite exciting for us is that you start from individuals, from people solving real problems for real people. We’re making a difference for people’s lives which is fantastic.”

*This article was first published in August 2015 on TechCityinsider.


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