Mayo Clinic launches mobile app company, meditation app

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Mayo Clinic GondaROCHESTER, MINNESOTA– Mayo Clinic is partnering with DoApps Inc. to form a new company that will develop and sell smart phone apps based on Mayo research.

Last week, mRemedy launched its first app called Mayo Clinic Meditation for Apple’s iPhone and iTouch, a program created by Dr. Amit Sood, a Mayo professor, to teach people breathing and relaxation techniques. The company has already sold 200 apps, each priced at $4.99 on  iTunes.

mRemedy will help distribute Mayo’s products and services well beyond its hospitals, not to mention generate revenue by tapping a booming market for smart phone apps, said Kathy Anderson, a spokeswoman for Mayo’s Office of Intellectual Property.

Consumers have already downloaded 2 billion apps from Apple alone. By 2013, smart phone makers like Apple, Research in Motion (Blackberry), Nokia, and Verizon Wireless (Google Droid phone) will sell 7 billion apps and generate $4.2 billion, according to Yankee Group, a technology research firm.

While games dominate the app market, apps that focus on health and wellness are becoming hugely popular, said Dan Grigsby, a Minneapolis-based tech entrepreneur and founder of Mobile Orchard, a top news site and blog for iPhone app developers.

Popular health apps include Lose It, which allows users to track and manage calorie consumption, and iFitness, an app that offers a weight/body mass index monitor, exercise videos, and custom workout designs.

Grigsby says his research shows that apps with an established brand commands prices that are 40 percent higher than non-brands. Thus, “it makes perfect sense” for Mayo to brand its apps, he said.

In some ways, mRemedy is just a high tech version of Mayo-branded reference books that explain best medical practices, Grigsby said.

Mayo Mediation was originally a series of DVDs developed by Dr. Sood, a meditation expert who first conceived the idea in 2006 while, you guessed it, meditating. Dr. Sood, an associate professor of medicine and chair of the Mayo Mind Body Initiative, said he wanted to demystify meditation by developing a low cost instructional program that could offer patients real, therapeutic benefits.

“Any time we say something is complicated, it just means we don’t understand it,” he said. “Mediation is not very complicated. We make it complicated by adding a lot of mystical stuff to it.”

Using a collection of images, melodies, and inspirational sentences, “we wanted to create a simple, effective, efficient, program that would both excite and relax patients,” Dr. Sood said.

The app begins with a 50 second video explaining meditation, reinforced by an iconic image of a sandy, Palm tree-lined beach with cool blue water. It then instructs users on breathing and meditation techniques, using a series of chimes, tones and blue or white circles.

The app also allows users to flip through 10 “Healing Thoughts” at the base of the main screen, which users can share via Twitter, Facebook, e-mail or a text message. Examples include: “Your journey and its direction are more important than your destination” and “Awaken to the present to enjoy the magnificence of life.”

Dr. Sood stressed the importance of science-based research to support Mayo Meditation. He conducted a pilot study of 200 patients, which was published in Explore: The Journal of Science and Healing, and interviews with about 1,000 users.

At the same time, the app is not designed to replace classes and workshops taught by meditation gurus, he said. Instead, Mayo Mediation “offers a fairly good appetizer” to the real thing, Sood said.

The program was an ideal way to launch mRemedy because of its low cost simplicity and the scientific research conducted by Dr. Sood to validate its benefits, Anderson said.

Mayo decided to partner with DoApps, a Rochester-based Internet company that developed myLite and mLighter, two apps named to the iTunes App Store “Top Apps of 2008.” mLite, a flash light program, was the 27th most downloaded free app that year.

With the iPhone and iPod Touch, “I can’t imagine a better way” of distributing Mayo Meditation, Dr. Sood said.

It’s not clear, however, if mRemedy will generate big bucks for Mayo, experts say. At $4.95, Mayo Meditation is pricey compared to the other dozens of meditation apps already available of iTunes priced between 99 cents and $2.99. Only a few were more expensive, including Thundergod ($9.99) and Eckhart Tolle’s The Power of Now Meditation Deck ($7.99).

Jay Schrankler, who heads the Office of Technology Commercialization for the University of Minnesota, doubts Mayo will generate much revenue from mRemedy.

“My gut reaction is that [mRemedy] seems like a nice idea but it’s not that big of a deal,” Schrankler said. “It’s kind of gimmicky.”

At the same time, however, mRemedy seems like a promising way to build out Mayo’s brand,  he said.

Krystin Jarrell and Chris Seper of MedCity News contributed to this report.

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Thomas Lee

By Thomas Lee

Thomas Lee was the Minnesota Bureau Chief for MedCityNews.
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