HealthCamp SFBay 2010 is a go!

The dedicated HealthCamp team that organized last year’s amazing one day unconference on healthcare innovation is back to do it again this year! We sold out last year and so it didn’t take much convincing to get Kaiser to agree to let us host the event again at their Garfield Innovation Center in San Leandro on October 6, one day before the Health 2.0 conference in San Francisco.

We are currently working on the logistics and seeking key sponsors such as Intel and Cisco who were gold sponsors last year. We will again be focusing on the conversations and idea sharing but plan to integrate a more sophisticated way to capture and report back the learning to the community. Providing flip cameras to participants was floated as an idea along with live streaming of the the Twitter feed (#HCSFbay) like last year, but we are exploring other methods as well. It’s going to be another great event so please visit the HealthCamp website to register!


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“Quantified Self” Gets Bigger/Hotter

Last night I helped out with the 13th Quantified Self Meetup at Langton Labs. I love this event! About 100 nerds gather and show off their latest self-tracking projects. I’ve presented the Archive twice now, however, most of the presentations are on quantitative data tracking rather than my qualitative stuff. Projects are all quite different yet they highlight that you don’t need to be in a lab to assess what is going on with your body.

Tracking physiological metrics over time produces visible trends that can illuminate poor health choices, facilitate better decision-making and can eventually reduce or eliminate costs associated with managing conditions that have become chronic. For example, last night my friend Matt Bell did his second talk on sleep tracking. The first talk discussed his observations after filming himself over the course of a year using infrared video, this time he hooked himself up to an EEG and tracked his levels of sleep through brain wave activity. Through this process he discovered he was a physically active sleeper, that sleeping with someone did not produce the most restful sleep BUT it did reduce sleep latency which is the time it takes to fall asleep.

Many of the behavioral tracking projects seem to have an almost quantum effect on the tracker in that by merely observing the behavior it can often change the behavior itself. For example, very few of us really know how much we eat until we track calories in. Observing the sheer numbers is often enough to influence how and what the tracker then consumes.

Self tracking has been around for quite some time in one form or another but the Quantified Self movement seems to be gaining momentum, especially as people start taking more control of their health choices. One of the founders, Gary Wolf, just penned an article in the NY Times last month describing the movement which now has a growing following in New York as well. It will be interesting to see how these personal projects creep into the mainstream over time as they inspire others to start recording behaviors.

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Pharma Tries on Social Media

Despite the lack of any formal guidance from the FDA on how drugs and devices can be discussed and/or promoted through social media channels like Twitter, Facebook and the like, dozens of firms are exploring what fits them best. There are plenty of examples out there but I took a look at three approaches:

  1. Johnson & Johnson – It’s no secret that being social takes a good deal of time, effort and investment to do well and J&J is one of the best examples of how to fully embrace the social fabric. They have a YouTube channel clocking over 1.5M upload views, a Twitter account with over 3,300 followers, and a dedicated blog dating back to June 2007.

    When you take a closer look at how they manage their content you’ll find a few key topics/issues/stories that are packaged appropriately for the channel and then cross-linked. For example, a tweet will link to a blog post that may in turn refer to a video on their YouTube channel or a product description on the corporate website.

    They do a particularly good job of weaving their products and services into the commentary about conditions, causes and projects. The corporate site is well positioned to receive these visits from social channels because they leverage so many personal stories and testimonials within the content.
  2. Bayer Diabetes on Facebook takes a different route as they try to capture interest and support of the young Type 1 diabetes population (mostly girls) through popular teen singer Nick Jonas. The page, with over 12,000 fans, links to another Bayer site promoting Nick, the Bayer blood glucose meters he uses, and information about managing diabetes (emphasizing testing with Bayer diabetes care products).
  3. GSK went in an almost unbranded direction by creating a series of impactful ads promoting cervical cancer awareness then posted them to a YouTube channel, which has pulled in almost 30,000 upload views since February. The channel is entirely cause-oriented and only lightly branded. However, each one of the ads provides a link to a branded microsite with a strong call to action for testing and vaccination, even though Gardasil is never specifically mentioned.

Keep in mind that success can really only be measured against goals – and all social media campaigns should have specific goals whether the orientation is corporate, product, or cause awareness.

Even though it can be difficult to gauge who has the most impactful social media presence, our friends at Dose of Digital just announced an opportunity for you to cast your vote for the best social media sites through their first annual Dosie Awards.



A Maker’s Approach to Health

I’m noticing a bit more of a shift toward self-reliance in what is known as the “maker movement” and highlighted by events like the Maker Faire in San Mateo each year. This observation might be more of a symptom of living in the Bay Area, but I’d like to think that the increasing popularity of steampunk is also fueling the fire of a do-it-yourself culture.

I’ve always had a propensity to want to make things, partly because of my creative background and inclination but also because the process and tangible end product are so much more rewarding than just throwing down a couple bucks. I have mountains of crafts projects stashed away but an equal number in everyday use or pulled out for special occasions like this past weekend’s Steampunk Exhibition in Emeryville where I decked out in regalia that I had partially made, modded and refurbed myself.

So, why couldn’t we take a similar approach to our own health? Where we spend time carefully crafting the food we eat, or the containers we carry our lunches in (steampunk lunchbox anyone?) In our increasingly virtual world, creating tangible things is hugely gratifying, and making things that make you happy AND healthy are the most valuable way to spend your most precious commodity – time.

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My Dream 3D User Interface

One of the slides from my presentation.

Frankly, I’ve pretty much reached the point of exhaustion with tracking my life through the Archive. It’s been over a decade of meticulously shooting, collecting, prepping, organizing and assembling as many data channels as possible into a single “scrapbook on crack” stream. At 19 volumes, this project that has fed most of my OCD tendencies, needs to take on a new form so that I can get on with my life.

I didn’t fully realize what I needed in an interface to execute this phase change until I was intensely interviewed (for 3 hours) last November by a team from Jump Associates. Apparently I met the requirements for an “extreme user” of notebook documentation and thus made the perfect subject to probe for ideas. The session turned into therapy for me as I dolled out all my “in a perfect world” scenarios for documenting my life.

The key take-away for me was that this new interface MUST be tangible. If I can’t move stuff around with my hands, feel textures, physically arrange images/ideas/data in a space, then it just ain’t gonna work for me.

The problem is that the technology just hasn’t fully arrived yet. But there is some cool stuff out there for content access (a la Minority Report, but called the g-speak spatial operating environment) and for content entry/interaction (who hasn’t seen Pattie Maes & Pranav Mistry’s TED talk from last year?).

The questions is, how do you combine these technologies (instant tangible data entry with instant tangible data access)? I want to gather information, sort it, rank it, edit it and then store it in the appropriate category all within a few simple moves. In fact, maybe I could turn it into an interpretive dance…

I’m going to speak about this during the Quantified Self Meet-Up next Wednesday the MedHelp offices at 927 Market Street.

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Healthcare’s Excellent Adventure

BIL:PIL logoThis past weekend saw the inaugural launch of BIL:PIL in San Diego, a two day healthcare innovation conference following TEDMED. The first question people tend to ask is actually not about healthcare at all, but rather, who’s Bil? Those of us who were around in the late 80s usually get the tongue-in-cheek reference to “Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure,” and, not surprisingly, it is that same spirit of wacky innovation that you find at the BIL gatherings.

late the night before...

Midnight chalking the sidewalk.

Like many social media phenomena, BIL:PIL is entirely “user-generated.”  All the organizers, like myself,  freely volunteer their time to envision, coordinate, and manage the event and the talks are presented by unpaid and unsponsored speakers from across the healthcare industry and country. We leveraged several internet technologies to spread the word using our Facebook page with almost 400 fans, an editable schedule with a mobile interface (moBIL) to register the talks in real time, and live streaming of the event on the BIL:PIL site to bring in over 700 unique visits.

Rampant twittering on the hashtag #bilpil further spread content to the entire following of each tweeter – some with over 3,000 names on their list! However, it wasn’t just the technology that made the event a success, it was the content and, moreover, the mission that engaged people.

BIL:PIL is about progress, sharing ideas in healthcare through technology, and the shifting paradigm of health ownership to the consumer. For example, Scott Johnson of the Myelin Repair Foundation talked about how his frustration with the industry’s lack of planning and progress to develop a cure for MS led him to create his own research foundation. In 5 years, and with only $20M investment, his team has been able to develop more targets than some of the largest and best staffed organizations in the world.

Maren & Todd

Me and Todd Huffman, one of the founders of BIL.

Even huge industry organizations like BIO came to support the event and spread their message. One of their new programs called “I Am Biotech” aims to garner public support for the biotechnology industry despite a constantly changing political landscape, the struggling economy, and misconceptions about the science of biotech. BIL:PIL provided a forum to spread the word across a network of active individuals already engaged in the healthcare discussion.

This was just the first of what will be an ongoing series of events. In fact, for next year there is already talk of hosting BIL:PIL on both sides of the country on the same dates with live casting and video walls set up at each venue. Without a doubt, healthcare is on on the path to become way more EXCELLENT!


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Design and the Art of Complexity

DMII recently attended the Design Management Institute’s annual meeting titled “Design Complexity and Change” at MIT. Without a doubt, this was another call to action for great design minds to help save our increasingly complex world from destroying itself. The message was echoed by speakers from corporate design centers within Nike, Virgin Airlines, and GE, within design education by John Maeda at RISD, and also from a political source pushing legislation to form a US National Design Policy to create national design standards within the government.

The motivation to engage design and designers in solving some of the most complex problems from pollution to social justice has finally come, even if only from a place of desperation. The decades of excess and deregulation have given way to economic hardships that demand more creative problem solving to ensure survival. Corporations have been discovering that design often provides a competitive advantage, but how many more times must we endure requests to make whatever we are designing look like it came from Apple? And really, does Apple-style design solve all problems?

Virgin DesignFor some, yes. Joe Ferry, Head of Design at Virgin Atlantic stated simply that they “design to survive.” A competitive advantage based solely on design (of every aspect from crew attire to corporate website interaction) has allowed the tiny airline to not only survive, but also remain profitable while almost all other airlines are stuck in the red. Virgin has transformed the unpleasant experience of flying back into a glamorous event by eliminating complexities and coveting details from mood lighting to the sexy leather bomber jackets pilots wear.

However, design thinking can be used for much heavier lifting than a sexy user experience or sleek interface. Nike is in the process of redesigning their products down to the component level to reduce waste and energy via a process they coined “considered design.” Lorrie Vogel, GM of the program, explained how integrating environmental impact into each step of the design and production process has yielded dramatic returns in reduced company-wide energy and water consumption and increased recyclability of their products.

But what stuck me as the most valuable use of design thinking was Dori Tunstall’s presentation on her work to form a National Design Policy. This document (and subsequent organization) would be responsible for creating national design standards for communications and materials produced by the government.

Dori emphasized that design plays a significant role in social inclusion as it translates values into tangible experiences. As an example, government butter and its generic, uninspiring package design pronounces to the consumer that they are not worthy enough to get a color picture on their food package like everyone else. National design standards could also help with daunting problems like simplifying the complexities of voting though coherent page layout and typography. Guidelines would set standards for legibility, literacy and accessibility for all government communications.

Alan WebberSo many of the complexities we deal with in modern life can be simplified though design if we choose to engage our creativity. As Alan Webber noted, design can be used to solve problems, initiate change and announce innovation but, at the same time, change only happens when the cost of the status quo is greater than the cost of change…

Article published on the DMI site here.

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Plenty of Food for Thought at HealthCamp

HealthCampI have to say that I’m pretty proud of how well HealthCamp SFBay turned out! After months of planning, the volunteer team kept the 200+ attendees on schedule while the many industry thought leaders contributed their insights to an open and vibrant discussion.

BoardKaiser Permanente donated their Garfield Innovation Center while both Cisco and Intel were the key sponsors of the event. Opening remarks were made by their key healthcare leads including Dr. Robert Pearl, Executive Director and CEO of The Permanente Medical Group. Dr. Kaveh Safavi, VP of the Global Healthcare Practice at Cisco, and Patricia Perry, VP of the Digital Health Group at Intel.

Not surprisingly, their focus was on leveraging technology for better health outcomes. Specifically, online video communication is where the system will move toward as the population ages and mobility declines. For example, Cisco has their TelePresence technology which allows real time remote doctor visits (if you can afford the set up fees).

But what really interests me is how to motivate behavior change. A product research finding discussed by Tom Keegan from Smart Design was “compliance is a lifestyle”…shouldn’t it be “engagement is a lifestyle”?

The HealthCamp unconference format really helped instigate conversations and I felt that attendees came away with a renewed energy for facilitating change in the system – and a big smile from all the wine and cheese we served during the closing remarks and recap!

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Register now!

We are actively accepting registrations for the two healthcare innovation unconferences I’m working on in October:

HealthCamp SFBay in San Leandro on the 5th can be registered for at:

BIL:PIL in San Diego on the 30-31st registered for at:

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Designing a Healthcare Unconference

As social media approaches adolescence its hallmark of “spontaneous user generated content” has also spread into all kinds of seemingly unconventional places like the world of conferences…that have been morphed into UNconferences. I’m always a bit surprised at how few people have actually heard of an unconference since the concept has been around for a few years now, I’m guessing it will become more mainstream in years to come.

Our friends at Wikipedia describe it as a “facilitated, participant-driven conference” which basically means and bunch of people show up at a designated place for a specific topic and spontaneously decide what the presentation topics are going to be. And yes, most of the time this results in pandemonium as participants jockey to get their talks in the larger, better-equipped rooms. But the net of an unconference can be far more productive as almost all participants are actively engaged in the content and structure of the event.

So, I’m working on one of these things. For those familiar with the TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) conferences with their highly polished presentations, invitation-only guest list and $5,000+ participant fees; the free unconference analog is called BIL (as in Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure notoriety). And for the medical fanatics out there, a special TED was formed called TEDMED with pretty much all the same parameters as TED. It only makes sense to provide an all access and free BIL:PIL unconference as a community-driven forum for current and aspiring healthcare thinkers to share and collaborate. This October (30 and 31st) will be the first BILPIL to be held right after TEDMED in San Diego.

BIL:PIL logoThe BIL:PILLers are a bunch of scrappy healthcare renegades with a surprising amount of clout. We secured the San Diego State University BioScience Center and already have an impressive list of speakers willing to come and talk about whatever healthcare related topic they feel is relevant at that moment. This healthcare innovation unconference will bring together over 200 entrepreneurs, health professionals, technologists, and laypeople to describe the future of healthcare.

I’ve been working on the cat-herding part of the project but also managed to design the identity for the conference (within the brand parameters established by the original BIL franchise). I also created a visualization of the key content areas we hope to attract people to speak about :BIL:PIL Topics

Check out the site at, register and help “set healthcare free” with us this October!

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