Digital Health Science Digest: Issue 22

Posted | Posted in Digital Health Science Digest

Free unlimited international calls for your next digital health intervention, an intro to digital biomarkers, and more this week! 

The Digital Health Science Digest is a bimonthly newsletter compiled by Duke Digital Health. We bring you the most interesting research publications, policy news, and other fun digital health science stuff.  

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Issue 22



  • Rebtel, a Swedish company, is offering *free* unlimited international phone calls for a year, and $1/month thereafter. Importantly, Rebtel uses the cellular network to connect calls, instead of wifi (as Skype does). A reliable, clear phone connection- imagine that! Having a cheap international calling option is great for digital health. Also, now you *officially* have no excuse for not calling your Nana.   
  • Did you know: At least 20% of people in the US speak another language? Advocate Health Care in Chicago does, and they are using videoconferencing to provide interpreting services for their patients- in 24 different languages! Maybe if the hospital’s wifi goes down, they can use Rebtel (see above)! 
  • The term “digital biomarkers” is pretty hot right now. Rock Health published a great report on them – what they mean, how they measure health, and how they can act as translators from data to insights. 
  • Omada, the digital health company behind Prevent, a technology-based intervention based on the Diabetes Prevention Program, has announced new features for medically underserved populations. The features include: bilingual health coaches, lessons that are easy to read, and recipe suggestions that account for food access issues. 


  • Adding to the growing “virtual Diabetes Prevention Program literature,” an intervention combining DPP classes with 6 text messages/week helped patients with pre diabetes lose a small but clinically significant amount of weight over 12 months. The treatment effect was statistically significant for Spanish speakers, but not for English speakers.
  • A recent meta-analysis of 16 RCTs published in JAMA Internal Medicine found promising evidence for text message reminders to increase medication adherence. Taken together, study authors estimate that text message reminders can increase medication adherence rates by almost 20%. As the authors note, however, most interventions lasted 12 weeks, and medication adherence in most cases is a lifelong commitment so it is still not known whether texting reminders can promote and sustain change.
  • Fear of loss may be a stronger motivator than anticipation of gain when it comes to promoting physical activity. Researchers randomized 281 adults into 4 groups, each with different incentive structures. The goal was to get participants to reach 7,000 steps each day. Participants tracked their steps via Facebook’s Moves app. The gain incentive was no more effective than the control, but participants in the loss aversion group increased the number of days they reached their physical activity goal by 50%. Days meeting the goal decreased for all groups after the incentives stopped.
  • New Pew data suggests that broadband adoption has plateaued over the past 3 years, and is currently at 67%. There has been a concurrent increase in adults who have only a smartphone. As the report states, “…significant changes in adoption patterns are taking place among three groups: African Americans, those living in rural areas, and those with relatively low household incomes.”


  • Arkansas was recently ranked last on telemedicine practice standards. This led them to create new rules. The new rules drop a previous rule requiring an in-person visit before being able to see a patient via the Internet. This posed a significant barrier, and is no longer necessary.

Grab bag

  • mHealth@Duke is accepting applications for the 2nd Annual Shark Tank! Enter your idea for a chance to “swim with the [mHealth] sharks” and win $1,000! Applications are due 3/4 at 5pm.
  • Save the Date! mHealth@Duke Conference: April 20, 2016. Featured Speakers: Bill Riley, PhD, Director of OBSSR at NIH; Donna Spruijt-Metz, MFA, PhD, Director of the USC mHealth Collaboratory.

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