HxD 2013 Pass Giveaway Extravaganza!

Here are some creative healthcare ideas and thoughts of mine in response to questions posted in preparation for the Healthcare Experience Design Conference (#HxDConf) in Boston on March 25 and a possible chance to win a free pass.

(I’m currently between gigs – looking for my next healthcare startup – and am flying out to Boston for this event on my own dime, so wish me luck!!!)

Without further chatter, here are the 3 questions I chose to answer and my answers:

  1. Describe a creative way to encourage healthy behavior. It could be your own original idea, or an existing project/solution you admire.
  2. If you were given $1 million and one year to improve the health outcomes in your community, what would you do?
  3. What are the best digital offerings or practices from the consumer world that could be applied to positively impact health care? If you could only pick one…what would that be?


1. A Creative Way to Encourage Healthy Behavior

Are you trying to get up and go to the gym every day at 5am too? Want to be my VitaPal?

Every health and wellness app seems to allow me to connect with my friends from my contact list or Facebook and to post progress messages or tracking data to Twitter or Facebook… but that just won’t work for me.

I do want to create new habits and healthy behaviors for myself, I do want to take some risks, to engage with another person or 2  on a similar path, to share my experiences and  to share encouragement with others working towards similar goals. But I definitely don’t want to go down this very personal path with my old girlfriend from high school, my co-workers and my customers watching. To these people, I am invincible and perfect already, an illusion I’d like to maintain 😉

BJ Fogg’s book – Persuasive Technology – mentions many fundamental behavior design principles including the social principles of participation, cooperation and competition. Mixed in there is a discussion on the power of anonymity to assist in behavior change.

If I could create a new, semi-anonymous “digital” relationship with a real-life person – a new friend, not a person I’ve had social interactions with in the past, then this will provide the safety and space I need to take new risks and yes, maybe even fail miserably. And I get this opportunity without the baggage of past and future social engagement with my current friends, family and colleagues. 

Remember that old-fashioned concept of a pen pal?  A pen pal is someone who I may never meet face-to-face but with whom I engage in a semi-anonymous snail-mail based relationship. That’s what I’m talking about here, a VitaPal – Vita for vitality, wellness, health.

So the idea is to create a service to help me to find someone roughly my age, on a similar path of behavior change, maybe in my timezone so we can chat in real time first thing in the morning and maybe they have the same tracking device I use so we can compare activity results. I.E. help me find the “right” anonymous person and put us in contact with each other. And, maybe let’s go ahead and make it a “team” of 3 or 5 of us, and let’s set some combined goals on our paths so we are helping each other to reach those common goals. Then let’s throw in some friendly competition with another anonymous team. If I’m not really getting what I hoped from the relationship, it is accepted and expected that I can drop out and go find another pal, another team and try again. Nobody gets their feelings hurt because that is the way the system works.

This doesn’t have to be a new and separate product, an existing service like Fitbit could easily add this to their current product, expanding the social aspects and features of their tool.

 I look forward to someone lifting this idea off of this page and into reality!!

2. $1 Million and One Year to Improve the Health Outcomes in Your Community

$1 Million and one year, don’t have to turn it into a sustainable business, but do have to make a sustainable difference in the community…. hmmm…

The WellBlock FitBit challenge:

The WellBlock Fitbit challenge is a grass-roots neighborhood competition where teams are organized by block and work together to help all members on the team become aware of, manage and improve (if necessary) their activity levels, blood pressure, and BMI. Every team member will have a Fitbit to track their activity and will be expected to log their weight on the Fitbit site once a week. Hopefully Fitbit will enhance their product in conjuction with this effort to allow tracking of blood pressure, if not, the team site will be developed with this functionality. At the end of the year, the winning team will be determined by calculating a weighted score that includes the following components: average blood pressure, BMI score (with a scoring system that includes improvement and maintenance points) and total steps walked. The exact scoring algorithm will need to be worked out with some statistical and medical experts – but in the end it translates to a single number for the team.

I would dedicate a year of my time and give myself enough money to cover my mortgage for the year.

About $100k would be budgeted to build and host a team tracking web site with a desktop and  mobile interface. It will include features such as social tools to help teams inspire each other in addition to real time data collection.

Another $100k would be spent on purchasing Fitbits for all players – with the expectation that we would target 1000 people to participate in the challenge. After recruiting enough volunteers in the community to help organize and run the program – and possibly one other “full-time” team member who may need some funds to make the commitment, we would go block by block in the neighborhood to find a volunteer team captain who would then be responsible for forming a team. Each team member would have to spend $40.00 to “purchase” the Fitbit with the expectation that they will get their money back at the end of the challenge if they stay committed. In addition, each member will have to commit to participating in the competition for the year while sharing their results with the community and playing an active engaged roll in inspiring their team mates to meet weekly and monthly goals. Everybody signs some kind of release promising not to sue for any reason!! At the end of the year, all team members who participated for the entire year will get a $100 gift certificate as individual rewards in addition to receiving the returned $40 they paid for the Fitbit. Team members who do not participate for the entire year will forfeit their $40.00 but they get to keep the Fitbit. The project will fund the replacement of up to 2 lost/broken Fitbits for every team member to support the expectation that a percentage of them will need to be replaced during the year.

Throughout the year, there will be a series of events to bring the teams together to share in the fun of competition and boast about individual progress. At the end of the year, each member of the top 3 teams will receive cash awards for first, second and third place at a final awards event.

Once the tools are in place and the concept proven, I would expect that a program like this could continue on a yearly basis with funding from local businesses, health plans that serve the local area, donations from various corporate sponsors, etc.

3. Consumer Digital Offerings or Practices that Could Be Applied to Healthcare

What are the best digital offerings or practices from the consumer world that could be applied to positively impact health care? If you could only pick one…what would that be?

Make it cool and connected and programmable!

Apple and others have proven to the world that devices and the software that runs them convey a personality. Apple made MP3 players, laptops and phones into cool, personal, statement making accessories with seamless natural user interfaces. Wearable devices such as the Jawbone Up and Fitbit One can be very personal behavior modification devices that could be used for health and wellness in much more direct and powerful ways than phones – but in order to accomplish that they need to become indispensable accessories – like mobile phones – that you can’t imagine leaving home without. To reach this pinnacle, these devices need to be connected communication tools with seamless natural user experiences and they need to sport cool, elegant, desirable designs that convey a personality instead of geeky tracking devices that advertise health or wellness problems. 

I’ve been wearing the Jawbone Up device for more than a month now, it is verging on “cool” but lacking in connectivity and personalization. It communicates with me by vibrating when pre-configured alarms go off, or when I’ve been inactive for a configured amount of time – that is very powerful. A gentle vibration is a non-interrupting signal to me and me alone regardless of where I am and what I am doing at the time. But the personalization and usability need some help before this device becomes as indispensable as my phone. 

Just like we have with other digital devices, the Up and Fitbit need a mobile data connection shared with my phone plan and an API so that creative developers can drive the various interactions and gestures of the device from apps running in the cloud or on my phone or laptop.

With these 2 additions – 4g data connection and open APIs – the health and wellness possibilities become endless.

Two-way real-time connectivity would allow tracking data to be seamlessly transmitted from the device in the background in real time – no need to start a ‘sync’ event by plugging it in or getting it within range of a base device. My step count and that of my friends that I am competing with will always be current whenever any of us chose to launch the app and look. Once the devices add additional tracking abilities such as blood-pressure, blood sugar and heart rate the real-time data flow will become even more powerful and useful for health management. When the more sophisticated software that is processing this data determines there is the need to communicate with you, a message can be sent that arrives as a unique, personalized vibration – “you need to eat soon, your blood sugar is getting low”. The ability to send and receive discrete Morse code-like personallized communications with friends and family will add a powerful connected experience at times when the use of my mobile phone is not feasible, such as when I’m in a meeting at work or out on the Bay sailing. This will turn my wrist band into the indispensable device that I can’t imagine leaving home without – which of course becomes a virtuous cycle for it’s health functions. 

Make it cool, connected and programmable and the new wave of wearable devices will become very powerful devices that will impact health care and wellness. 

About Mark Feinholz

Software developer, architect, technical product manager. Inspired by technology to help us live happier and healthier lives.
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