True Prevention

True Prevention

Presenters and vendors at the 2015 mHealth Summit in DC shared in a more somber, mature position this year, one that applauded how far technology has come as it relates to health and healthcare, but also explicitly described remaining pain points across our system.

One of my favorite conversations was how collaboration was being pitched more and more as opportunity for better success (IBM Watson and Walgreens definitely led the charge here).

Still, there seemed a lot that was missing. Specifically, there was very little technology dedicated to mental health, women’s health, and in my mind most significantly, kids and young adult health. Granted, I didn’t scour the Gaylord Convention Center (the location of the mHealth Summit) for these innovations, but I don’t think I should have to. These three groups are critical to those more attended-to conversations like diabetes 2 or obesity or chronic pain.

Adam Baker presented strongly for mental health by referencing Iodine’s new application, Start. Women were represented throughout the conference, but by way of closing the gender gap in presenters, not in paying attention to health and wellness needs. And kids and young adults were missing entirely.

Most of the innovations that I’ve seen emerge in the healthcare space are nothing short of awesome. However, most present solutions to what already exists. Nutritional apps and fitness trackers are preventative but they are designed with a certain user in mind, and with that is a bunch of analysis on past behaviors and trends.

Funny enough, though we hear lots of call for “Disruption!” and “Innovation!”,  the focus of this attention is quite similar to our traditional framework of thinking about disease.  We say that we are moving away from fixing conditions and moving towards preventing conditions from ever happening. To some extent, true. But what about traveling a bit further upstream? Why start at the adults with mappable behavioral trends and patterns? By ignoring those earlier opportunities, aren’t we still fixing?

What happens if we intervene earlier? What happens if we target earlier stages of development so that fitness trackers or nutritional apps aren’t as necessary later in life because that knowledge has been more firmly incorporated into the foundation of our kids’ lives?

Notwithstanding the design challenges inherent in making great products for kids and young adults (Ayogo Health knows this well – and is successful!!), it’s critical that we devote more resources to this space. Rock Health’s recent partnership with Boston Children’s is awesome and I cannot wait to see what sort of ideas emerge. Under the leadership of Dr. Wendy Sue Swanson, Seattle Children’s has developed Virtual Handshake, a technology they developed by using human-centered design methodologies resulting in the improvement of the patient-clinician relationship. HopeLab is another rock star organization and with Margaret Laws as their new CEO and President, I’m looking forward to how they will be able to integrate their strong research backbone glittered with design prowess and technology know-how across the healthcare marketplace.

We drive innovation for children and women in global health, and there is certainly an uptake in fertility and period tracking technology, but I suspect there is more work we can do. HopeLab’s Margaret Laws just brokered a deal between Welltok and their children’s fitness app, Zamzee. I just completed working with a design firm, Rival, on the rebuild and design of the Southern Nevada Health District’s teen pregnancy prevention program called THNK (True Health Needs Knowledge), and am working on another project aimed at helping parents better locate online resources and build skills for having “The Talk” with their kids.

There are so many intersections for meaningful innovation. We have seen concerted efforts to drive attention to innovate for underserved communities and to elderly populations. Developing for our younger populations is fraught with challenges, but that’s nothing new. We just have to shift how we think about it and not shy away from those challenges.

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