Posts Tagged healthcare

A Chat About Social Media in Healthcare

I was at Social Media Week in San Francisco the other day and met Daryl Pereira who works on IBM’s web and social media strategy. We had a lively conversation about the special challenges healthcare marketers face on social platforms. He later interviewed me on the same topic for a podcast posted on their social business school site. So, I thought I’d write down a few more ideas here…

First of all, healthcare is an incredibly broad term that covers everything from pharma, biotech, medical devices (products) to home health, hospital administration and care delivery (services). The product side of healthcare has more challenges because the FDA has strict guidelines about what you can/can’t say and how you have to respond to off-label issues about your product. For example, if a patient tweets a question about using your sleep drug to deal with a heart condition, the proper response would be to include a warning about off-label use, provide a copy of FDA-required labeling, a list all proper indications, safety information, and references for all the provided information. Whew!

The service side deals with another set of challenges around Personal Health Information, which is governed by HIPAA rules. The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) is a federal law that says that a patient has control of his or her own protected health information. Basically the name of the game is protecting patient privacy and you can’t talk about any personal information, which includes giving advice. Those conversations can happen but need to be taken out of the public space; no practicing medicine in public forums.

Still, digital conversations about health happen all the time, and the FDA is slowly playing catch up with how to deal with patient safety and privacy. For example, the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health Act (HITECH Act) now gives state attorneys general the right to pursue violations of patient privacy. Despite these challenges, there really isn’t an excuse for not participating in the conversation!

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Design In/Is Business

Leveraging design and design teams to increase competitive advantage is getting more notice in large organizations thanks in part to events like the Design Management Institute’s (DMI) “Re-Thinking…The Future of Design” conference in San Francisco this past June. Key design leaders across a broad spectrum of industries shared conversations on stage about how they used design thinking tools to create value for, and facilitate change in, their organization.

What struck me most is that design teams increasingly seem to also serve as innovation teams for the business. John Fly, the VP of Strategic Planning at Miliken & Company talked about successful designers being able to toggle between solving both business problems and design problems and often solving business problems with design solutions. The biggest hurdle in this process usually comes from finding a common business/design language. However, understanding the business inside and out increases credibility and leads to better decisions for the business.

I was most focused on what Bob Schwartz, GM of Global Design for GE Healthcare had to say because of my personal interest in improving healthcare through design thinking. His decades in design management had obviously honed his business navigation skills and it was through a combination of analogies, storytelling techniques, and an empathy workshop that he was able to build consensus and unify his design team of 46, spread over 5 countries.

Pushing empathy as a key driver for design and business decisions led to the redesign of several GE products – particularly in the pediatric space where the design team created a MRI scanner and scanning process from the perspective of a child. A story was developed for the children to engage in before they came for the office visit and the scanner room maintained the story’s imagery throughout. This environment reduced anxiety during the procedure and ultimately improved test results. The success from this storytelling approach filtered to the sales force and acted as a powerful motivator to increase sales.

My hope is that more examples like this will bubble to the surface and motivate investment in design teams and the value of design thinking processes across the entire organization. Giving every business team the license to think creatively and more empathetically will foster solutions to support humanity and not just the bottom line.

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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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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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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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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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