Trend: A Big Gap

After two stimulating days at the Sex:Tech 2011 conference, I want to comment on a recurring theme (that has emerged at large, not just at this conference).

One of the panels discussed the gap between the public and private sectors and how much of a challenge it presents in advancing the health field. Many thanks to panel members [Yin Ling Leung, Amanda Mills, Dr. Jody Ranck, and Dr. Robyn Whittaker] for sharing their insights during the MHealth Panel (check out the full panel session video)

What is mhealth?
“Delivery of health care services via mobile devices”

What do you see happening (what needs to happen) in mhealth over the next year?

  • “To empower and help the end user… mobile apps need to be connected (to a system, program, community) and work across all platforms.”
  • “The mobile device (not the desktop computer) will soon be the primary method of accessing the internet”
  • “Messaging is going to be really important in reaching traditionally underserved populations….but messaging doesn’t need to be boring…”
  • “A lot more behavior change & data collection using mobile phones is coming….”
  • “The real game changer… this area called ‘open architecture’….to use data more effectively….to allow us to use mobile devices to change the landscape of public health…
Trends: connection/connectivity; reach; interactivity; behavior; data; open architecture.

What are the most prevalent issues we’re facing in mhealth?

  • “One of the biggest barriers [to advancement] is public health as a discipline. …public health and academia are not producing the types of professionals needed…they don’t know anything about design, they don’t know how to do business plans, they cannot serve as a diplomat to navigate in between the public and private sector…and they must know how to negotiate…the field of public health needs to change to catch up…it’s a very big problem in the field.”
  • “If you’re trying to merge public health objectives with new technologies it can be incredibly challenging.”

Trend: we must find a way to enable the public and private health sectors to communicate and collaborate!

When trying to rollout mass media projects, what strategies do you employ?

  • “We use text messaging a lot as a cross platform…and we work constantly with the carriers…we use messaging as the hook to move users into richer products.”
  • “Behavior change strategies: people have to feel like they are on the path to better behaviors and then mhealth can move them along that path.”
  • “We don’t know a lot about how to do this well (design for behavior change)…there’s not a lot written…there’s a lot of people doing a little bit here and there, but there is not a good knowledge base or a way of sharing what is working for whom…I encourage people to build evaluation into what you’re doing and publish so we can all learn from it…we need more partnerships…partner with researchers that have experience …in order to do the process well….”
  • “The current system – the current infrastructure is a barrier….”
  • “HIPPA prevents getting data into the hands of end-users…it stifles innovation…”
  • “We must design to scale. We are building networking tools, but we don’t have a networking system. We need (mobile health) ethnographic data.”
  • “Do focus groups and formative data collection with priority users at the start to better understand what your audience needs, how they will use it, what theories of behavior change emerge….which takes time to do!”
  • “Learn from simple and scale-able programs (e.g. text4baby).”
  • “Stand alone/apps in silo’s do not work! Must be connected to a doctor, group, system.”

Trends: we haven’t yet figured out how to design for behavior change; our system stifles innovation; we need to integrate research strategies into design development; network not just your technology, but your organizations; know your end-users before your design and disseminate; build it to scale; keep it simple!

As a professional, I felt so incredibly validated listening to this panel! This is why I moved to San Francisco. This is why I left full-time academia. This is why I have been on a crash course to learn tech/design speak, skills, etc. This is what I dedicate every single work hour to = how can I, a health behaviorist with over a decade of academic and practical training, be useful to health tech and design teams?

How can I – how can we – be better at bridging the wide gap between the public and private sectors?

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