Success Is 20% Technology and 80% Psychology

Lessons in Innovation and Entrepreneurism from Kent Dicks, CEO of Alere Connect

Kent Dicks headshotRecently, I had the opportunity to interview Kent Dicks, Chief Executive Officer of Alere Connect. Alere has just received FDA approval for its latest hub device, HomeLink. I’ve seen Alere at conferences and am excited by its potential to alter the quality of lives for many while reducing healthcare costs. What makes the Alere Connect platform so exciting is the behavioral psychology behind its development.

Where it all started

In 2006, before mHealth was a term on the tongue tips of venture capitalists, Kent Dicks was trying to find technology solutions for the defense industry. He was working with a company to develop devices to monitor troop location, hydration levels, and other stats remotely. It dawned on Kent that there was a tremendous need to manage a number of healthcare consumers in the United States in a similar fashion, but the health monitoring technology was fairly antiquated and expensive.

The consumers Kent was thinking about – the elderly – didn’t use computers. At the time (and, to a certain extent, this still rings true), this population didn’t use cell phones. Yet, this 15% of the U.S. population represents 80% of healthcare costs. From his previous experience, Kent knew the importance of aligning technology with users. Finding the right device that wouldn’t require extra steps or Internet use – even connectivity – would be challenging.

Formula for success

There’s a reason Alere Connect is successful. According to Mr. Dicks, successful development is 20% technology and 80% psychology. Developers and behavioral psychologists are busy trying to figure out just what it is that motivates people to change their habits, and just how to harness those behavior change theories to improve public health. The most successful technological advances are those that work seamlessly with little to no input from users. Say, for example, that you want to track a patient’s (we’ll call him Tom) weight following his hospital stay to treat his congestive heart disease. Taking daily weight measurements – and communicating those measurements in front of a medical professional – might not be a habit that Tom can sustain.

HomeLink in home settingWith Alere HomeLink, all that Tom has to do is step on the scale every day. HomeLink connects wirelessly to the scale, and automatically sends the data through the cloud via Bluetooth technology, where it can be reviewed and acted upon by Tom’s caregiving team. Tom is more likely to weigh himself daily if he knows someone else is on the other end, waiting for the data. At the start of treatment, Tom has selected his preferred method of communication with the Alere team from a list of possibilities, including text messages, phone calls from caregivers or family members. If Tom forgets to weigh in one morning, he’ll get a reminder message.

For congestive heart patients like Tom, Alere’s behind-the-scenes technology has reduced 30-day readmissions by up to 70%. Tom’s caregivers are able to detect fluctuations in his weight and adjust his medication regimen accordingly. Something as simple as stepping on a scale daily, and sharing that information (with no added steps for the patient) with health providers can improve Tom’s quality of life while reducing healthcare costs.

Advice for up-and-comers

I couldn’t spend 30 minutes with a successful, innovative entrepreneur like Kent Dicks without asking his advice for others interested in health technology start-ups. Mr. Dicks advises:

  • Leverage as many partnerships as you can.
  • Try to get to market quickly.
  • Bring solutions that fill a gap in marketplace that people just aren’t addressing well. Right now, investors are looking for quick hits and alignments.
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An App Can’t Replace Your Physician

There are an estimated 40,000 health-related apps out there on the market. Why so many? Because one app doesn’t fit all. Because people download the app, use it religiously for a day, a week, a month, or however long it takes to get over the hurdle they faced, and then stop using it. I’ve got several sitting on my iPhone right now. Sure, I’d love to be fitter, to eat better, to know how many steps I’ve taken in a day. But the truth is, I’m too busy most of the time to call my loved ones, let alone sit and plug my daily food intake into an app.

Some apps are only meant to be used a few times. First Derm, for example, allows parents to take photos of their child’s rash and send them in for review by board-certified dermatologists. With a 24-hour turnaround time, parents can find out if they need to take their kid to the pediatrician, or which over-the-counter cream to use. This seems like a good sell, especially since every health crisis my children have had occurred outside of office hours.

Pediatrician examines baby

The technology is awesome. But, depending on the child’s age, the appearance of a rash is often secondary to the rest of her history and symptomatology. Are the dermatologists on the other end of this app pediatric specialists? Would you trust your child’s health to a random stranger on the other side of an app? Someday, in the not too distant future, these innovations should be used by our doctors themselves.

This begs the question though: are we moving away from having one general physician and moving toward taking medical advice from whoever-can-see-us right now? Is this good for our health? Would you use First Derm? Would you be more likely to use it if it also sent the image to your physician’s office and you’d pay that $40 fee to whomever reached it first?

The End of Free Facebook Marketing

Facebook is no longer a free mega-phone for your brand

Skeptics thought is sounded too good to be true. When Facebook rolled out its Pages for businesses, it seemed like every small business’s dream: set up a page to promote your business for free and have someone on your office staff manage it. Some brands did it well, hiring content specialists to maintain fan engagement. Others did what they could with the resources they had.

But gradually, what consumers see in their Facebook feeds has changed. First, I noticed that I wasn’t seeing the status updates of my closest friends. Let me tell you, if your BFF posts a comment about her cat knocking over the Christmas tree or her babe eating strained peas for the first time and you don’t respond, you are in trouble. Then, I saw fewer and fewer posts from brands, and more from curation sites like Upworthy.

Megaphone in black and white

Image from: Igor Klisov

Like most people, I don’t want to have to sort through hoards of advertisements to find the information I care about. But, the idea of organic reach is a thing of the past. Yesterday, I set up a Facebook page for my new business. Like many start-ups, I don’t have a ton of money to spend on advertising right now. I am not pretty, young, thin, and well-spoken (not all at the same time anyway) like Goldieblox inventor Debbie Sterling. I’m absolutely certain that a video of me sitting on the floor and telling people why I felt compelled to start my own communications and PR firm would not go viral. So, does a person like me invest in Facebook advertising? Not when every penny counts and there are still a ton of other ways to reach my audience.

Remember e-mail?

According to a channel preference survey from Exact Target, 91% of internet users are still accessing e-mail every day. A well-written e-mail pitch, especially if it’s targeted specifically to the consumer, still does the trick!

If you’re just starting out, chances are you don’t have access to a ton of consumer e-mail addresses. I have three recommendations:

1. Start a blog and pitch it like crazy to the content editing gods, other bloggers, your friends, and anyone who will listen. Keep posting this content in Facebook just as well – that much is still free.

2. Reach out and call someone. Cold-calling clients sounds daunting to Millennials who may forget how to speak, but it’s important to remember that businesses are built on relationships.

3. Use those feet to hit the street. Set up in-person meetings with prospective clients. Talk to them about trends in their industry, listen to their pain points and try to find a way in the front door. Just remember to take a business card with you when you leave so you can add them to your e-mail list!

Will you marry me? Text yes or no.

According to Mashable, a U.K. survey of 7,000 women found that 17% would like to receive marriage proposals online.

Call me old fashioned – or perhaps it has something to do with my only recently gained right to marry in a handful of states – but marriage is personal. Sure, it’s exciting and you want to share it with all your Twitter buddies. It just seems like you might also like to share it with your would-be fiance. As in, touch her hand, look into her eyes.

couple holding hands at sunset

Photo courtesy of archcapeinn.com

Smart phones and social media platforms will come and go, but with any luck and a lot of work, hopefully your marriage will outlast them.