Tagquantified self

Social Media in Medical Institutions

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Note: These are some initial thoughts, not yet ready for prime time on the Third Wave blog. Feedback to help shape these thoughts is very welcome.

A recent issue of f&w, a German magazine for managers of medical institutions (mostly hospitals and rehabilitation clinics) had a series of articles on social media. On the one hand, it’s almost a bit depressing that this sector is only now beginning to seriously look at Social Media. On the other hand, it’s good to see some movement in this space as there is much to gain for all parties involved.

The magazine quoted plenty of studies – some of which seemed fairly small-scale, but indicative and plausible enough for me – that boiled down to this:

  1. The whole sector is only in a very early stage of embracing Social.
  2. Top level management is only beginning to see the need for and advantages of Social Media, mostly because they have no personal experience with it (ie. a generational gap).
  3. Adaption rates seem to grow quickly from a low level as the first movers gather lots of (oftentimes positive) experiences.
  4. There’s clearly a recognized need for the sector to engage with their potential patients online and through Social as patients get more and more autonomous and base their decisions on online research and peer recommendations.

It’s a tricky sector for Social. Not unlike banking, if for completely different reasons, data is highly sensitive and privacy is of the highest priority. This is also reflected in the laws regulating both sectors.

Just to be clear here: In an emergency hospital, things can already be quite sensitive. But if you or your relatives submit themselves to treatment in a clinic for psychological or psychosomatic diagnoses it’s a different ball game altogether. There’s legal issues, there’s social stigma, there’s the risk of negative impact on the treatment. Most people won’t “like” a clinic on Facebook, and that’s ok.

And yet there’s tremendous potential in using Social channels in this context. As patients get more autonomous, monitoring and reputation building grow more important. As a clinic, you’ll want to know how happy your patients are with treatment, location and service. You might want to learn how to improve their experience during the treatment. You might try and support them after treatment through regular checkups and by providing a channel for them to get advice should they need it. And of course you can always help patients with shared experiences to connect among themselves for mutual support.

That’s the Social Media part. While the details and implementation are tricky, it’s not rocket science and there are enough examples of how things work. Then there’s the part that I’d put at the intersection of where the somewhat unwieldily named Quantified Self (that we’ve been writing about for awhile) meets mobile apps and networked technology.

More concretely, imagine a kid treated for childhood obesity (the numbers in the industrialized world are staggering!). Once kids leave the clinic and head back home, they’re back in their old environment, back in their old life. This is where things get complicated, as obesity usually involves a radical change of lifestyle – often for the whole family, if there is to be a lasting effect.

Feedback loops can help keep the motivation up, as can group dynamics and regular reminders. All the big and small stuff we can do to ease the problems that might arise on a day-to-day basis. A scale that tweets your weight might sound ridiculous. A scale that helps you track your weight over time and gives you regular feedback – not quite as ridiculous. An app that lets you know what you can’t and can eat given your current situation that very day? Now we’re talking.

All these things might become unnecessary after a few months, which is fine. Once the former patient has developed new routines and a better understanding of what’s good and what isn’t and they’re ready to move on. But for the transition period this could be really useful.

The current wave of Quantified Self and lifestyle and health apps aims mostly at those with an extra healthy or active lifestyle and at early adopters. A few of these services also target very specific medical conditions.

It seems to me that there is a huge, huge demand (and thus market) in the middle here. And I’m looking forward to seeing new services developed for this market.

Disclosure: I privately hold a (very small) amount of shares in a small independent medical services provider with a focus on phychosomatic rehabilitation, and used to work with them on their online activities when I was still a freelancer.

Interview on the Quantified Self: Die Vermessung des Selbst

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Over at Third Wave, we’ve been thinking a fair bit about the Quantified Self. I was nicely surprised when journalist Christian Grasse asked Johannes and me for an interview for Deutschlandradio Kultur as part of a half-hour feature on the Quantified Self called Die Vermessung des Selbst. Good fun all around to do an interview with a fellow geek. It’s available (in German) as an mp3 and as a full text transcript.

In Body Tracking, Interfaces matter

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Earlier today I received a press release. It advertised the Quentiq, a Quantified Self / body tracking suite consisting of sensors, a web service, an iPhone app, and some kind of tracking gadget.

QUENTIQ Health Score – English from QUENTIQ on Vimeo.

Dramatic music aside, this is where this otherwise ambitious project is bound to fail:

QUENTIQ Health Score

Quentiq asks you to carry around this hideous little box with a lousy display and thumb through long lists of text interface.

When tracking day to day behavior, subtle & implicit data gathering is key. If you require your users to punch in a bunch of data points manually, you’ll never get there. No, I don’t think I’m over-simplifiying.

Take the Runkeeper app for Android for example. You hit the start button when you start running, and the stop button when you get back home. And that’s it. Runkeeper handles the rest and gives you this as an output:

Running Activity 4.44 km | RunKeeper

Or Massive Health‘s first app, The Eatery:

Screenshot: Massive Health Eatery

The ideal version of this would have you snap a photo of your meal and provide an analysis. In practice that’s not how it works – you actually still have to manually enter a whole bunch of data, which frustrates at least the users I know.

Anyway, that’s all just by way of reminding everybody building body tracking apps right now not to rely on active, explicit user input too much. You’ll make your users’ lives and your own much easier.

Quantified Self Europe & More Thoughts

Two more announcements.

First, this coming weekend I’ll be at Quantified Self Conference Europe. Ping me if you’re around.

Second, over at the Third Wave blog we just kicked off a series of blogposts about body tracking and the Quantified Self. For all the articles that will go online one by one over the next couple of weeks, follow this link.

What keeps me up

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Sitting down with a cup of coffee brewed from the excellent Balzac’s beans that an even more excellent person brought me from Toronto, my mind started wandering. There are a whole number of challenges – big and small – that I keep thinking over. Some of them seem rather insolvable, others not so much. Here’s a brief, entirely incomplete and pretty much unstructured snapshot of some of the things that keep me awake at night, and get me going in the morning.

How can we get the insights from the Quantified Self community to work for more people, more easily? How can we use them for medical purposes on a much more mainstream level? And how can this work in government-run health systems – think interfacing with the institutions etc. This is big, and there’s a lot of potential here on many levels (societal, individual health, institutional organization etc).

On the one hand, there’s this huge startup hype going around in Berlin welcoming expat technologists. On the other hand, a creeping anti-foreigner attitude that creeps in disguised in an “anti party tourist” rhetoric. Dangerous and annoying – what can we do about it? And how come the Green party seems like they’re in on it? Looking at my personal environment, it’s all about this diversity: I share offices with people from four countries; my girlfriend is American; a large chunk of my friends are from abroad. Where gentrification is used as a proxy argument against global exchange, my sympathy stops.

Speaking of global exchange, there’s all kinds of global problems that need global solutions, but there are currently no institutions that could tackle them. It’s the incredible complexity of global economics and the speed the world changes that seems to break institutions. This goes down to the personal level and my previous point: the small but growing number of people who live lives on a global or multi-local level (as opposed to nation-based, the state is almost reduced to a backdrop and issuer of identity) almost falls out of the governance structures. At the same time, while totally privileged to work that way, and also contributing lots to local economies and communities, this group faces all kinds of hurdles while moving back and forth. Just ask anyone who tries to work for a few months from another country while on a project of sorts, or founding a company. Again, others have written at much more depth about this – I recommend starting reading Ben Hammersley’s excellent blog.

At least in Germany (but also in many other developed countries), the job market is doomed almost by definition. Demographics look dark for both jobs and pension plans, education can’t keep up, immigration restrictions are tough even for super skilled workers. We produce more as a society/economy, yet still aim for full employment, which only half makes sense. How can we make sure everybody can get by and participate fully (particularly those whose jobs have been made redundant by technology) without getting into early-20th-century capitalism v communism debates that help no one? (This, of course, is kind of the big question here.)

Globally, trust in institutions is way down, including political parties. As someone who majored in political science and worked in election campaigning, this is particularly tough, yet totally understandable. However, how to fix this? No real alternatives to parties have emerged. (Personally, I’m disappointed by the Pirate Party that seemed to take an ambitious stand on this issue, yet ended up combining the worst of both worlds.) We kinda need a quick fix for this, too, as a strong disconnect in politics leads to the rise of dangerous freaks – of which the Tea Party is only one. (Not to invoke Godwin’s Law too early on in the discussion, but having grown up in Germany I’m somewhat sensitive to populism.)

Besides those heavyweight questions, there’s lighter & more positive challenges ahead, too. Funnily, they tie right into the same mechanics as the rest above.

Why can we still not get a decent video streaming service in Germany? (Netflix, I’m looking at you!) As long as national borders – here in shape of licensing deals – delay the global distribution of inherently global services, we all lose. There are many, many, many examples of this, and truly, it’s 2011 – this is a problem of the past that just sticks around because we’re all used to it. Let’s tackle that. Seems doable.

Infrastructure! The apartments I know are still relatively (!) barebones in terms of network infrastructure. Yet, both offices and apartments alike have an abundance of screens large and small. (I’m aware of five in my household – two phones, two laptops, one under-utilized TV. Not counting some smaller gadgets, disused phones etc.) There’s huge potential and so little going on. The good folks at BERG and others have been digging into this for awhile. There’s so much more to do there yet.

And then, of course, there’s always the loveliest of Sunday questions: Who to meet for coffee, and where? And that’s where I’m off to now. Enjoy your Sunday.