All posts by Jason Moehringer

Wellocracy – Tracking for Health

As researchers and developers increasingly tout the potential benefits of health-related apps and wearables, the large number of options available to consumers can make the job of choosing between them nearly impossible. While PsyberGuide surveys the field of products that address mental health concerns, a group of scientists at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Massachusetts General Hospital have created Wellocracy, a consumer-oriented website reviewing tracking apps and devices that focus on physical health and wellness.

When it comes to apps and wearables, “tracking” relates to the collection and analysis of data about daily health-related activities such as exercise or diet. The idea is that this information can be used to give feedback to the user or to medical providers and researchers in order to improve physical health at both individual and community levels. Wellocracy focuses on nine categories of products that provide this service:

  • Wearable Devices
  • Running Apps
  • Pedometer Apps
  • Sleep Apps and Devices
  • Mood Apps
  • Food and Calorie Apps
  • Heart Health Apps and Devices
  • Connected Scales
  • Healthy Habit Apps

An excellent feature of Wellocracy is that products in each category are compared side-by-side to make it easy to determine which fits best into the user’s lifestyle. To help with this decision-making process, the site includes a useful questionnaire of potential health/wellness goals and problem areas in order to generate individually-tailored suggestions. In addition, Wellocracy provides basic information about tracking and how making it a regular part of a daily schedule can lead to a better life.

Wellocracy holds a lot of promise in the growing field of tracking apps and wearables. As scientists at renowned research hospitals, the group behind Wellocracy is in a unique position to study the current crop of products and offer reliable data about which can be most helpful. We at PsyberGuide think that anyone who is interested in tracking for health should make a visit to Wellocracy the starting point in their search.

Take off: The End of ESCoNS 2015

As ESCoNS 2015 winds down, it is time to step back and assess what I will be taking home with me. With a serious h/t to Zack Lynch, Adam Gazzaley, Sophia Vinogradov, and Mor Nahum, I want to thank everyone who worked together to make ESCoNS 2015 happen. This was a great conference, and I am looking forward to the next one. My experience was leaps and bounds above what I expected, hopefully some new collaborations are in the works, and some great ideas were shared.

I am walking away with a new appreciation for the readiness of the neurogaming industry for standards and guidelines that will serve consumers and regulators. There was a real eagerness to provide confidence to potential consumers and grow the field through responsible action and high-quality products. This can only be good news for those who think they have a problem and would like to try an eMental Health program: developers’ willingness to submit to third-party certification means that consumers can expect excellence and transparency.

It was gratifying to learn that the mission of PsyberGuide is already such an integral piece of the industry’s overall vision, and many were excited that we are already working to bring eMental Health down to a level that is accessible to everyone, and where consumers are empowered to become informed and make the best possible choices for their needs. Check back with us frequently as we continue to expand our database, develop collaborative partnerships, and push the field to new heights.

Consumer Issues Take the Floor at ESCoNS

We had a fantastic panel this morning, focusing on the very important issues of Data Security and Industry Efficacy Standards. By all reports it was a resounding success and all of us on the panel fielded some great questions and received very positive feedback. I was thrilled to see the interest that the industry has in consumer issues, particularly in the general commitment to making safe and effective products that consumer can rely upon.

The idea of industry-wide standards for efficacy became the highlight of the panel, and PsyberGuide’s position bridging both industry and consumer groups got both the panel’s and the audience’s attention. Here is my take: while the field is eager for general standards and guidelines, there are a lot of issues regarding usability, dissemination, top-down regulation that need to be ironed-out. For example, while a variety of developers are working with the FDA to establish the validity of their claims, there was consensus that a specialized third-party certification may be necessary to evaluate products that don’t necessarily claim to cure specific diseases. This was only one of the complex issues that we discussed this morning, and I look forward to bringing PsyberGuide further into this conversation as it develops.

Looking Forward: ESCoNS Day 3

The third day here at the Entertainment Software and Cognitive Neurotherapeutics Society (ESCoNS) conference and expo promises to be exciting for me and PsyberGuide, as I will be on stage for a panel at 11:30 discussing Data Security and Efficacy Standards (translation: Will your data be safe, and can it be used to help you?). I am looking forward to sharing my thoughts on these issues, as well as putting PsyberGuide on the map in the eMental Health marketplace.

The discussion so far this morning has been focused on the ideas of consumer immersion and social media integration. The keynote presented the possibilities of the “metaverse,” a term for virtual worlds as exemplified in products like Second Life. “Immersion” is the potential for augmented reality devices (VR headsets, wearable EEGs, Oculus Rift, etc.) to draw users deeper into these virtual spaces even as they remain engaged with the real world. Allowing consumers to interact with each other as they inhabit virtual spaces can allow a great expansion of the contexts within which educational or therapeutic interventions can be applied, and may provide a venue for whole new categories of neurotherapeutics. Stay tuned!

Day 2 Wrap-Up: Emerging Tech in “Neurowearables”

There was a different focus at ESCoNS today as emerging technologies took to the stage. A variety of panels explored new developments in “inputs” and “outputs” that are showing promise in being able to integrate whole new realms of data into neurogaming and eMental Health. “Inputs” refer to devices and/or systems that are able to capture information about the user or the environment, while “outputs” are devices and/or systems that provide feedback from the game or therapeutic to the user.

Many of these products were on display for the attendees, and I was able to play around with several of them. I was impressed with the overall ease of use of many of them, particularly in the realm of mindfulness training. Several mobile EEG devices are – or about to be – on the market, and each was able to give real-time feedback to me as I tried to attain a state of calm and relaxation (they told me I was pretty good at it). However, it still felt like many devices weren’t much more than gadgets or toys at this point, and it was difficult to imagine what uses they could serve in routine use by consumers at home, at least in comparison to cheaper alternatives that are already available. Controlling a drag racer with my mind was cool, but not really addressing any issues that I have in my day-to-day life. Having said that, ESCoNS is not so much about what can be done today, but about combining good science with state-of-the-art technology in order to create better therapeutics for tomorrow. I and PsyberGuide are thrilled by the amount of innovation and creativity that has gone into the emerging field of neurowearables, and we eagerly anticipate their launch into the mainstream.

Sunrise in San Francisco: ESCoNS Day 2

Both Zack Lynch, Founder of the Neurotech Industry Organization, and Adam Gazzaley, Director of the Neuroscape Lab at UCSF, were on hand this morning to kick-off the second day at the Entertainment Software and Cognitive Neurotherapeutics Society (ESCoNS) conference and expo. After a welcome introduction by Zack, Dr. Gazzaley gave an engaging talk on the promise of neurogaming to optimize cognition and brain functioning.

The highlight of Dr. Gazzaley’s presentation was his discussion of the need for increased collaboration between tech developers and software designers to bring a level of professionalism, creativity, and design sensitivity to the neurogaming field. Where researchers can study brain functioning and cognition, tech industry professionals are needed to help translate that knowledge into engaging, stimulating, and rewarding games that consumers actually want to play. The incredible mix of academic scientists and industry representatives at ESCoNS this year suggests that this is the place to be to see new developments in the field. PsyberGuide and I are excited to be a part of it, and we are well-positioned to help get state-of-the-art research and products out to consumers in a way that promotes informed choice and and confidence.

Monkey See, Monkey Do: New Research in Social Cognition

It was an excellent keynote talk at the third Entertainment Software and Cognitive Neurotherapeutics Society (ESCoNS) summit. Andrew Meltzoff, a pioneer in the field of child neurodevelopmental research, specifically in the area of “social cognition,” presented findings from some of his most recent projects. Social cognition is a theory of learning that proposes that humans learn primarily by observing and imitating the behavior of others, particularly parental figures. It is thought that applying the principles of social cognition to educational and other real-world learning environments can improve learning outcomes.

Using magnetoencephalography (MEG), a brand new form of MRI designed exclusively for children, Dr. Meltzoff and his team have taken the first ever pictures of brain functioning and development in the earliest years of life. Combining this with some elegant experimental design, with and without MEG, they have been able to gain insight into the roots of social learning and social cognition. This research has the potential to strongly impact the development of neurogames and eMental Health products, which currently only rarely interweave the principles of social cognition. It will be exciting to see if new games are able to utilize these findings to make them more effective and powerful. We at PsyberGuide look forward to future developments.

Learning to Learn: Morning at ESCoNS

Things got off to a great start at the Entertainment Software and Cognitive Neurotherapeutics Society (ESCoNS) summit this morning. After a welcome by Sophia Vinogradov, MD, one of the conference organizers, four presentations focused on the current state of the neurogaming field. They also created some synthesis regarding what we know about brain learning and neuroplasticity.

These presentations highlighted the rapid pace of progress in neurogaming. A variety of scientific trials have demonstrated that there can be real rewards for children with attention/learning problems who use validated neurogames. At the same time, it is still unclear why neurogames work, for whom they work, and whether they translate into real-world gains. PsyberGuide is well-suited to help guide this research and development, as well as get it to the medical professionals and consumers who need it. With such a stimulating opening, ESCoNS is promising to be an exciting conference.

PsyberGuide goes to ESCoNS

As the largest gathering of scientists and researchers in the field of Neurogaming, PsyberGuide is thrilled to attend the third Entertainment Software and Cognitive Neurotherapeutics Society (ESCoNS) summit and conference! Meeting this year in San Francisco, ESCoNS is the premier gathering of movers and shakers in the eMental Health industry and provides a venue for sharing ideas and advancing the field. Organized by Sohpia Vinogradov, MD, Adam Gazzaley, MD, Mor Nahum, PhD, and George Rose, visit the ESCoNS site to get the full details.
I will be sitting on a panel on the second day of the conference (Thursday, May 7, 11:30-12:15) alongside Ariel Garten of Interaxon, Cori Lathan of AnthroTronix, Eddie Martucci of Akili Interactive, John Reppas of the Neurotechnology Industry Organization, and moderated by Tracey Lien of the LA Times. We will be discussing data security for new devices and the issue of efficacy standards across the industry. With our unique perspective on the eMental Health field, the PsyberGuide team is eager to foster a dialogue about these complicated questions. We will also be blogging throughout the conference, so please check back frequently to stay up to date.