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Sprint Pushes Medical App Development With KC Boot Camp

Alex Smith

In his Overland Park, Kan. office, Dr. Rohit Krishna administers an eye test, but he isn't using big contraptions or wall charts. Krishna administers the entire test on his iPad using an app called The Eye Handbook. Krishna created The Eye Handbook about four years ago with other University of Missouri - Kansas City medical professors and residents. It is designed especially for use in countries that don't have a lot of medical services.

The handbook has reference materials; it can connect doctors to other doctors, and makes it possible to do with a phone a lot of tests that used to take a room full of machines.

"Being able to check somebody's vision like out in the middle of the desert, if you have somebody who got an eye injury, and just being able to check that whereas normally you would have to go into an eye doctor's office," says Krishna.

The free app has been downloaded about one million times by people around the globe.

"Uruguay, Costa Rica, Jordan, Slovakia, South Africa," Krishna says, listing off the countries where the app has been used.

Now in it's 13th version, The Eye Handbook is the most popular ophthalmology app in the world. 

"On a daily basis we get three or four people who just thank us a lot for putting this out," says Krishna.

There are hopes that this kind of success with mobile medical apps will be endemic to Kansas City. 

Last Wednesday, the coffee shops and the art studios in the Crossroads got a new neighbor. The launch of Sprint's new Accelerator seemed like an art opening, with a wine and cheese cube reception in a big loft. 

At the event Sprint's Kevin McGinnis announced the company is looking for 10 groups who will receive $20,000 each and take part in a 90-day start-up boot camp focusing on mobile medical technology. McGinnis is Vice President of Development and Operation at Pinsight Media, a division of Sprint. Tech Stars, which is a mobile accelerator in Boulder, Colo. will train the 10 groups.

"They are literally told that they will be moving to Kansas City, if they are from outside the area," McGinnis says. "They'll spend all day, every day in the Accelerator going through somewhat of an immersive session."

McGinnis says Sprint itself isn't interested in getting involved in the risky, labor-intensive work of creating new apps, but the company does want to be involved with the people who are.

"By engaging in that entrepreneurial ecosystem and bringing those thoughts and those ideas back into the company through those engagements - that is something that I think we've seen some benefits," he says. "Whether it is organizing hack-a-thons or challenging people to come up with innovative ideas about our own business." 

Of course, the more ways there are to use phones, the better for Sprint. But that is not the only benefit for the two companies involved. TechStars gets a six percent stake in the participating businesses, and Sprint is also offering the businesses a $100,000 loan which can be converted into a share of the business. 

Sprint and TechStars aren't the only ones who have been interested in mobile medical apps lately.

"It's gone rampant, you know, it's gone viral," says Kansas City Dr. Kimberly Gandy. 

Gandy developed an app called "Plan-it Med," designed to help patients follow complicated doctor's orders. There are currently more than 97,000 medical apps, and the FDA estimates that by 2015, 500 million smartphone users will have at least one of them. 

Lots of developers are working on the next blockbuster, but Gandy believes making really useful medical apps takes more than tech smarts.

"There is a huge chasm in between the understanding IT and the understanding of the medical universe," she says.

Gandy says that part of the reason that mobile medical app development has become so popular is that the medical community is willing to pay a lot for high-quality, professional technology. 

"That's where the money is."

The FDA just released guidelines for regulating professional medical smartphone apps. 

Gandy likes Sprint's mentoring program and says it could help a lot of entrepreneurs deal with business challenges, but she hopes developers won't lose sight of creating apps for ordinary people to use outside of hospitals and doctor's offices.

"That's where the emphasis really needs to happen," she says. "Without serving the patient population, we're sort of missing the point."

Dr. Rohit Krishna says that whatever happens with mobile medical apps, they are going to make big changes for the world of medicine. 

"They are not even at the end of the first inning in mobile apps in the medical space," he says. "It is just absolutely booming, and it is going to change a lot about how we do stuff in medicine."

Sprint is taking applications for its Accelerator until December, the program starts in March 2014. 

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