Four Lessons from Boston
By Dylan Cicero, Sales Support and Social Media AssociateAugust 1, 2012
Hundreds of mHealth conferences are held each year. Selecting which ones to attend can be confusing, especially when you consider the registration fees, which are often hefty. As I was fortunate enough to attend, I’ve written a review of the 4th
Annual mHealth World Congress that was held in Boston from July 25–27. My rating? Five stars. Here are four practical lessons that I took away from the conference:
1) The FDA is not the enemy
. As stakeholders in the mHealth space, we want our medical apps and devices to serve a legitimate purpose. Right now, the marketplace is taking a Darwinist approach common in most free markets—survival of the fittest or, in this case, the most popular. While that may be fine for sneakers or vacuums, it’s a little more challenging in the medical field. With patient care at stake, we can’t take a wait-and-see approach about the accuracy or legitimacy of apps. And that’s where the FDA comes in, promoting patient safety and doing so without hampering innovation. Consider the number of mobile blood-glucose testing devices and less-known dermatological apps that with a single picture of a skin lesion can pair that image to a database in the cloud and offer a self-diagnosis. An incredible advance—if it works. But if clinicians and patients can’t rely on apps to do what they promise, mHealth will quickly lose credibility with the medical establishment.
2) Healthcare can be fun!
There is some really exciting stuff happening with the “gamification” of health. On one of the summit panels, Jim Burns, Chief Technology Officer at Elbrys Networks, described his image of a future that incorporates gaming into the mHealth space. He envisions a system by which points or currency could be accrued for commendable fitness performance as measured by connected devices. This currency would have purchasing power in traditional mobile gaming applications. For example, if you walked 1,000 steps as measured by any connected mobile device, you might receive 1 point. You could then use those points toward perks in other gaming apps (e.g., 100 points could unlock all levels of Angry Birds). Another speaker on the panel, Dr. Lisa Shieh, Medical Director at Stanford University Medical Center, described the app that Stanford developed regarding sepsis infections. The app, called Septris, invites physicians to read a patient case and accrue points for proper virtual treatment based on clinical standards. During the panel, Dr. Shieh presented data on the heightened knowledge about sepsis experienced by physicians who played the game, and she elaborated on ways that Stanford will further engage physicians through the game–like by creating a hospital leader board that ranks participating hospitals by their Septris scores.
3) Behavioral science is paramount
. One of the standout moments at the conference was when Dr. Victor Strecher took the podium sporting his Nike fuel band and asked, “Why is Nike Fuel so successful?” The answer, of course, is that it is fashionable―it looks cool both with workout clothes or a tuxedo…and it acts as a watch, too. The statement, however simple, was nonetheless an eye-opener. A similar aha moment came when Dr. Naomi Fried, Chief Innovation Officer at Boston Children’s Hospital, described the process used to develop her new Patient Passport app. The app—which helps users track their hospital experience, take notes, and recall names and faces of physicians—first began as a paper passport. Only after the paper version was deemed successful did Fried and her team decide to digitize it. The lesson here? Too often app developers create a product without adequate consumer demand. Dr. John Halamka, Chief Information Officer at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, discussed the influence of behavioral psychology when describing the initiative to secure employees’ personal devices. Admitting that hoping employees would actually follow policy protocol and secure their personal devices was too good to be true, Dr. Halamka initiated a program by which his IT staff personally secured such devices. Though the process wasn’t exactly convenient, it certainly beat the constant fear of a security breach and the expensive recruitment of a forensics team that had been required when a physician’s laptop was stolen.4) There is a new protocol to fund mHealth ventures.
With an ever-growing number of mHealth startups, securing venture capital is becoming increasingly difficult. Firms are forced to find new ways to raise money or are forced to find new ways to prove themselves worthy of capital. Behold crowd-funding. Now, with sites like Kickstarter and Medstartr, firms are able raise significant amounts of capital through public investment. Consider Erik Migicovsky, founder of Pebble Technology, who raised over $10 million from 69,000 backers in 30 days. Admittedly, Migicovsky’s story is unusual. The real strength of crowd-funding lies in the public’s ability to back a firm with a few thousand dollars, offering proof of concept when the start-up makes its VC pitch.
Events like the Boston summit will continue to reveal important trends and clarify erroneous assumptions in this space. With continued collaboration between mHealth professionals, we can look forward to watching the mHealth world blossom and grow.