Ina Fried

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Latest Funding Shows Mobile Medical App Market Has a Pulse

Your iPhone can’t act as a defibrillator if you get a heart attack from reading that breakup tweet, but perhaps that is just a matter of time.

In recent months, all manner of apps and devices have sprung up that use smartphones and their many sensors to perform a host of medical tasks. And the trend hasn’t gone unnoticed on Sand Hill Road. There are apps that let the iPhone and other smartphones help scan inside a child’s ear, measure blood pressure and even check for malaria.

Azumio, whose app lets an iPhone or Android device act as a heart-rate monitor, announced Wednesday that it has landed $2.5 million in series A funding from backers including Founders Fund, Accel Partners and Felicis Ventures.

The app, Instant Heart Rate, works by having a user put his or her finger over a phone’s camera for 10 seconds. It boasts more than eight million downloads, and the company sees a virtually limitless market for that and other programs.

“Our customer is everyone with a heart,” CEO Bojan Bernard Bostjancic said in an interview.

Azumio is the latest in a growing category of medical devices that attach to or work in conjunction with an iPhone or other smartphone. The mobile health-and-fitness category is also exploding with devices like Fitbit and Jawbone’s forthcoming UP product.

Indeed, the Food and Drug Administration said earlier this month it was exploring new regulations for evaluating mobile apps.

While some are focusing on devices that plug into or communicate wirelessly with a smartphone, Bostjancic says Azumio is focused for now on uses that require only a smartphone and its built-in sensors.

“With the app, you can reach just a huge audience,” he said. The heart-rate monitor uses a smartphone’s camera to determine one’s heart rate by measuring the differences in light absorption as blood is coming in and out of the tissue in the finger.

Bostjancic said that there are other sensors in the phone that can help us be more aware of what our body is or isn’t doing at any time. In large part, he said, most chronic diseases are caused by lifestyle. That’s a problem, given how detached most people are from what is going on with their bodies. Technology is part of the problem, but also part of the solution.

Azumio, he said, “would like to put you back in touch with your body.”

Next up for Azumio are apps that perform stress checks. Bostjancic notes that stress is often the trigger for all manner of lifestyle-related disease.

“We would like to address this by quantifying the level of stress,” he said.

Bostjancic also sees an opportunity to partner with or acquire other companies in the field, noting that others are looking at sleep and other factors that contribute to the lifestyle-related chronic illnesses Azumio is addressing. Among the devices he says have caught his interest are those that monitor sleep, since sleep apnea is associated with higher risk of cardiac problems.

“We could coordinate the data from different measurements,” he said.

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