Ringful Health selected as a finalist in IBM Watson Challenge

I am pleased to announce that Ringful Health is selected as a finalist in the IBM Watson Challenge. We will develop a new cognitive application to facilitate critical medical decision making by patients and physicians. Our entry to the challenge is based on our pioneering work on smart cancer screening funded by the National Institutes of Health.

The IBM Watson super computer made headlines in 2011 for defeating human champions in popular TV quiz show Jeopardy! Since then, IBM has developed the technology behind Watson into a Cognitive Computing Platform, and announced an $1B business unit focused on its development and application. In Feb 2014, IBM announced the Watson Mobile Challenge to select teams to build innovative cognitive applications on the Watson platform. Ringful Health is selected from hundreds of submission as one of the 25 finalists, and is granted computing time on the Watson super computer to train Watson to “understand” a specific medical domain with a large body of medical research literature, clinical guidelines, and clinical trial data.

In 2001, I wrote one of the first popular tech articles on the technology and application of Watson on IBM developerWorks. I am very excited to be back and work with the Watson computer again this time. Our team has already started “teaching” Watson domain knowledge in this area. Stay tuned!

A new NIH research contract awarded to Ringful Health

We are pleased to announce that the National Institutes of Health (NIH) has awarded Ringful Health a new research contract to develop and test innovative mobile applications that could help patients better manage their medications.

It is estimated that over 1/3 of patients in the US do not take their medicine as prescribed. That has resulted in poorer health and an estimated $290 billion in avoidable healthcare cost. It is a big problem with significant economic and public health impacts. However, it is also a very difficult problem to solve, as it requires patient engagement and behavior change outside of traditional healthcare settings.

In this project, Ringful Health leads a team of scientists from University of Texas, University of Kentucky, Consumer Reports, and Mount Sinai Hospital to tackle this problem. We will explore how to use consumer-grade technology to engage patients, facilitate real-time decision support, and improve patients’ medication management and adherence at home.

This project is funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). The “phase 1” of this project will last 6 months with NIDA providing 100% of the required $150,000 funding.

Ringful Health Awarded Cancer Prevention Research Grant

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) announced today that National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (NCATS) has awarded Ringful Health a research grant to study new ways to engage consumers for cancer screening services. This phase I award is expected to fund a 6 month pilot project at the cost of $150,000 to develop and validate the technology prototype on a patient population. If successful, the NIH program can fund up to $1.65MM for up to 3 years to commercialize the technology.

This project is a collaboration of Ringful Health (Principal Investigator), CHRISTUS St Michael’s Cancer Center (pilot site), and scientists from Sloan Kettering Cancer Center (Dr. Andrew vickers), University of Texas School of Public Health (Dr. Elizabeth Vandewater), and Texas State University (Dr. Ju Long).

The key idea behind this project is that cancer screening needs to be individualized based on each individual’s family history of diseases, life style, or even genetic makeup. As we have seen in recent public controversies about cancer screening guide lines, one-size-fit-all recommendations do not work for everyone. However, individualized screen schedule is also difficult to establish and for patients to follow. It is challenging enough for consumers to follow simple screening schedules — the non-adherence rate for complex individualized schedules would be much worse. This proposed project utilizes secure new communication technologies via consumer mobile devices, to help patients understand, adhere to, and report back their cancer screening tests.

Congratulations to the team, and we look forward to a fruitful collaboration that would result in better prevention of cancer!

Ringful Health Selected as Technology Provider for a New Medicare and Medicaid Innovation Grant

Today, the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) announced the CHRISTUS St Michael’s Health System has been awarded $1,600,000 for an Integrated Nurse Training and Mobile Device Harm Reduction Program. Ringful Health provided the technology strategy and grant development support for this application.

CHRISTUS St. Michael Health System and its project partners were selected for the grant to implement the Integrated Nurse Training and Mobile Device Harm Reduction Program (INTM) in Texarkana, TX, according to Mike Finley, M.D., Chief Regional Medicare Officer for CHRISTUS St. Michael Health System.
“The INTM Program will help generate a potential savings of $3.5 million to CMS over the next three years by training nurses to recognize early warning signs of congestive heart failure (CHF) and sepsis among Medicare beneficiaries in nursing home facilities and patients in hospitals, who are vulnerable for certain preventable conditions,” said Finley. “We expect to experience reduced hospitalizations and readmissions due to CHF and sepsis, which simultaneously benefits patients and decreases costs. The INTM training, in combination with computerized clinical decision support systems loaded on mobile device tablets, is anticipated to result in a 20% reduction in readmissions from nursing home facilities for CHF and sepsis and fewer failure-to-rescue situations for those patients who are admitted to the hospital. The mobile devices, loaded with evidence-based protocols, will guide nurses through further patient assessment and actions once symptoms are detected. Ringful Health is a key partner in this effort helping support nurses with effective technology that enhances care.”

Kim Johnson, Ringful Health’s Chief Operating Officer stated: “We are pleased to be the technology partner on this project. We believe that we are entering a new era where technology can provide enhanced support to nurses who are on the front lines of providing quality health care and proud to work with an innovative organization such as CHRISTUS St. Michael to make this a reality.”

Dr. Finley continued, “We are excited to receive the opportunity to enhance training and care in the Texarkana area for patients who are among our most vulnerable population. Being selected for a health innovation grant speaks volumes about CHRISTUS St. Michael’s dedication to advanced health care for the citizens of the Texarkana region, a tradition that reaches back to 1916, when the Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word were invited to Texarkana to open Michael Meagher Memorial Hospital. Moreover, we are honored to be selected as an innovator in the delivery of health care with our efforts to strengthen disease management while reducing costs.”

“Through innovations in care delivery, CHRISTUS St. Michael is working proactively to reduce health care costs while improving quality and increasing efficiency,” CEO Chris Karam emphasized. “Today’s announcement by the CMS Innovation Center will advance our ongoing efforts to build effective public-private partnerships, strengthen the nation’s health care system, and put care within reach for all Americans.”

About Ringful Health:

Ringful Health is the leader in providing patient-centered and evidence-based teamwork solutions to help hospitals and communities improve healthcare outcome, patient safety, and reduce cost through mobile and decision support technologies. Ringful Health is an early stage health technology company based in Austin, Texas.

Background of CHRISTUS St. Michael Health System:

CHRISTUS St. Michael Health System, established in 1916 by the Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word as the Michael Meagher Memorial Hospital, today serves residents of Texas, Arkansas, Oklahoma, and Louisiana. With a mission of “Extending the Healing Ministry of Jesus Christ,” CHRISTUS St. Michael provides patient-centered quality care through the Center for Joint Replacement, our designated Primary Stroke Center, a Level III NICU (Neonatal Intensive Care Unit), a Level III Trauma Center, as well as day surgery, open heart surgery, orthopedic surgery, vascular surgery, neurosurgery, cardiac/pulmonary rehabilitation, diagnostic radiology, therapeutic and wellness programs. CHRISTUS St. Michael is a recognized regional leader for surgery, heart care, heart surgery, and cancer care. The St. Michael Emergency Department treated over 70,000 patients in FY2011, more than any area ED, with care and compassion. CHRISTUS St. Michael is nationally recognized as a “100 Top Hospital” in 2011 and again in 2012 by Thomson Reuters, honored with a Women’s Choice Award as a trusted referral source among women in 2011 and 2012, named the #1 “Modern Healthcare Best Places to Work,” for large organizations in 2011, and most recently received “Magnet Recognition” from the American Nurses Credentialing Center, an achievement realized by only 7% of U.S. hospitals.

Team Ringful a Winner in RWJF Challenge

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) announced today that team Ringful is one of 3 winners of its $130,000 challenge for its Aligned Forces for Quality (AF4Q) program. The winners were unveiled at the 3rd national Health Data Initiative conference at the Washington Convention Center.

AF4Q is RWJF’s signature effort to lift the overall quality of health care in targeted communities, reduce racial and ethnic disparities and provide models for national reform. In total, RWJF has committed $300 million to projects to improve the quality and equality of U.S. health care with AF4Q being the flagship program of the portfolio. It is the largest effort of its kind ever undertaken by a U.S. philanthropy.

The AF4Q Challenge launched on October 28, 2011 and asked competing developers to create applications that provide consumers access to comparative quality care metrics across the country. The Challenge saw a record number of entrants (55), and final 3 winners emerged after two phases of competition and real world pilots.

Team Ringful is a collaboration of Ringful Health (Dr. Michael Yuan), Consumer Reports (Dr. Doris Peter), Texas State University (Dr. Ju Long), and the Louise Batz Patient Safety Foundation (Ms. Laura Townsend). For this challenge, team Ringful developed and piloted an iPad solution to engage in-hospital patients to disseminate healthcare quality information, and to help patients engage clinician teams in the hospital. Team Ringful worked with AF4Q grantee, the Wisconsin Collaborative for Healthcare Quality, during pilot phase of the challenge.

According to team lead Dr. Yuan, the prototype application has already been used by hundreds of hospital patients during the pilot phase with very positive feedbacks. At least one large hospital has already agreed to deploy the solution to engage their surgical patients during their hospital stay.
“The solution we developed as part of this challenge not only disseminates information to patients, but also captures patient-reported healthcare quality information. The patients’ voice allows us to predict and address patient safety and healthcare quality issues early on. That is our key value proposition to healthcare providers.” said Yuan.

Pain Care wins award

Health 2.0 announced today that Ringful Health’s Pain Care application has won the “Project HealthDesign” developer challenge sponsored by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and California HealthCare Foundation. We are honored to win this national challenge!

The winning application is a collaborative effort between Ringful Health, Dr. Vishal Kancherla of the North Austin Medical Center, and the Louise H. Batz Patient Safety Foundation. By having practicing pain management physician and patient safety experts on the team, we have developed an application that benefits patients and physicians alike.

An early version of the Pain Care application is already available on the iPhone App Store. An update and the Android version of the app will soon follow next week.

Pain Care is a consumer mobile application that helps chronic pain patients to better manage their symptoms, medications, and better communicate with their physicians. It is based on one of the video scenarios in Project HealthDesign. Building on the HealthDesign story board, we work with pain management specialist Dr. Vishal Kancherla to enhance the design to include decision support analytics that are integral to physician’s workflows.

So, why do we choose pain management? According to the National Institutes of Health, pain is one of our most important national health problems, costing the American public more than $100 billion each year in health care, compensation and litigation. Pain management is also plagued by substance abuse, overdosing, and medical errors. Yet, a recent study (1) shows that many patients receive insufficient pain management. There is clearly something wrong here, but what is it? Can technology help?

Well, as it turns out, pain management is one of the therapeutic areas that really need personalized medicine. According to a study (2), today’s prescription pain medications are only 80% effective. People have different lifestyles, environments, and even genetic makeups. The one-size-fit-all solution does not work well for pain treatments.

In our view, a key aspect of a better and more cost effective pain management solution is to provide better information for physicians and patients to help personalize the treatment options for the most efficacy. That is exactly what our Pain Care application does.

At its core, the Pain Care application is an electronic pain journal for patients. Pain journals are well established tools to help patients manage chronic pain. Many studies have shown that electronic journals far outperform paper journals in both response rate and accuracy (3). In the pain care application, the patient report pain episodes, triggers, and medications. It then correlates all those data to give the patient insight into exactly what causes the pain and what medication / therapy is effective.

With PHR integration, the patient can share data with physicians. Our application provides an automatic natural language summary of the patient history together with analytics charts — they are all designed to fit into pain specialists’ existing decision making workflow, and make it easier for the doctors to come up with personalized treatment options.

We look forward to your feedback. If you are a healthcare provider or insurer in the pain management space, we’d also love to explore opportunities for us to work together!


1. American Society for Therapeutic Radiology and Oncology (2008, September 10). Many Cancer Patients Receive Insufficient Pain Management Therapy. ScienceDaily. Retrieved September 9, 2010, from http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/09/080909122753.htm

2. Brian B. Spear, Margo Heath-Chiozzi and Jeffrey Huff. Clinical application of pharmacogenetics. Trends in Molecular Medicine Volume 7, Issue 5, 1 May 2001, Pages 201-204

3. Tonya M Palermo, Duaré Valenzuela, Paul P Stork. A randomized trial of electronic versus paper pain diaries in children: impact on compliance, accuracy, and acceptability. Pain. Vol 107, Issue 3, Pages 213-219 (February 2004)

Are older patients ready for the personal healthcare revolution?

At Ringful Health, we build healthcare applications on smartphones that empower individuals to take control of their health at anytime anywhere. When we talk with established players in the healthcare field, the first question people always ask is this:

“This is very cool. But most of our patients are old and sick, will they use those hip smartphone apps?”

To answer this, our CMO Dr. Shaw and Texas State University professor Dr. Ju Long graciously helped us run a patient survey. The research survey is rather long, but here are some enlightening findings.

Of 163 patients we surveyed, the median age is 62 years old — yes, we specifically targeted a clinic with older patients in town, but that has made our findings all the more remarkable. A full 56% of those patients have smartphones (iPhone, BlackBerry, Android, Windows Mobile)! The median age for those smartphone toting patients is 56.

77% of all patients see the need to keep personal health records. In fact, 56% already use some basic form of PHRs — most of them (53%) just keep the records in a paper folder, and only 4% currently use computerized records. This crowd is ready for some technology empowerment!

Among smartphone users, 54% of patients want to use their smartphones to keep track of medical records, and 5% are willing to pay for such services on a subscription basis.

As we identified at Ringful Health, a powerful use case for smartphone-based healthcare applications is for the patient to keep a daily journal of treatments and outcomes. Examples include Ringful Health’s Pain Manager, Healthy Heart, Asthma Journal, and Pollen Journal applications. So, we asked the patients whether they would keep a medical journal if their doctor asks for it. The answer is that 87% patients, both in the general population and among smartphone users, would at least try to keep the journals. That is great hope for mobile application providers in this field!

Not surprisingly, smartphone users are pretty internet savvy, with 81% of them have searched for healthcare / medical issues online. But at the same time, only about 10% engage in online forums or discussion boards for healthcare issues — highlighting the private nature of healthcare information.

In addition, we found that 74% of patients would like to consult with doctors on the phone. But the majority of them, 61%, would only do so if it is paid by their insurance company. This outlines the challenges of tele-health — a system wide change is needed for tele-health solutions to reach their full potentials in terms of cost saving and improved outcomes.