Transparency during the consumerization of healthcare

I’m at the Cleveland Clinic Patient Experience Summit, where, over the next few days, we’ll be considering the transformation of healthcare through empathy and innovation. We’re just a few hours in and have already heard from some great speakers, been brought to tears more than once by moving video storytelling, and discussed barriers to innovation from digital disparities, to cost of entry, to regulation and privacy issues, to patient expectations and clinical realities.

Dr. William Morris, Cleveland Clinic; Dr. Wayne Guerra, iTriage; Dr. Imad Najm, Cleveland Clinic; Adrei Pop, Human API

Dr. William Morris, Cleveland Clinic; Dr. Wayne Guerra, iTriage; Dr. Imad Najm, Cleveland Clinic; Adrei Pop, Human API

The overarching theme thus far – from Mobile App creators, to physicians, and a Google executive – is the need for transparency.

When mHealth is adopted in this country, it will be because consumers demand it. But, to get consumers engaged using telehealth and health-related apps, we (developers, communicators, physicians, etc.) have to set accurate expectations from the start. We have to educate users about what to expect from the app, and be completely transparent about its limitations, and – most importantly – be clear that technology should augment the consumer experience of healthcare, not replace physicians.

The onus is on mHealth brands – and their communication professionals – to help guide patient expectations. If mHealth is to be a consumer product, communicators need to help users to understand what apps can and can’t do to improve or facilitate health care and health information seeking. According to William Morris, the Associate Chief Medical Information Officer at Cleveland Clinic and award-winning innovator, customers need us to tell them that these “technologies aren’t meant to replace physicians, but to augment [medical care].”

Consumers will be disappointed unless they have realistic expectations. Simply adding a page on your website with consumer instructions will go a long way toward ensuring that your paying customers get the experience they think they’re paying for. More happy customers means more positive reviews, and ultimately, more amplification of your value proposition. That’s what we’re all after – right?

Where do you think the consumerization of health care will lead? Who do you want tomorrow’s patient to be and how can you help today’s patient to become that informed consumer?


The Complex Role of Community Managers in Small Business Communications

Ever wonder just what exactly a community manager does?

Is it advertising? Social media strategy? Content production? Media relations? Business advising? Market research?

The easy answer is: yes to all.

community manager at work

Image courtesy of Flickr (CC)

Alison is a community manager for a local start-up. She has a masters degree in communications, and over 10 years of experience. Alison begins the day reading headlines, looking for stories that might be interesting to her employers, possible blog topics, or sharable in social media.

Because she works for a small company, Alison is more than a social media manager, more than a marketer: she’s an integral part of the daily business operations. She is the public relations rep, monitoring the brand’s image, expertly responding to customer comments and negative feedback. She is the media relations rep, pitching story ideas to overwhelmed journalists. She is responsible for blogger relations, reaching out to a list of bloggers to get influential eyeballs on your product. She is a researcher, always asking questions about who your next customers will be and how best to reach them. Alison is a writer, producing content and editing communications for your team.

Alison doesn’t work your typical 9-5. As most PR professionals are acutely aware, the rise of social media and digital journalism means that PR reps generally start their workday before 7am and see more of their smartphones than they do their spouses.

How much should you pay a community manager? According to, Alison should draw a salary of $80,000-$150,000 depending on where she lives (the low end is for small towns like Cleveland, OH, the higher end for the big guns in New York and Silicon Valley). Many start-ups can’t afford to pay a salary this high. Some don’t think they need communications help. But when you look at the value community managers like Alison bring to a company, many start-ups won’t succeed without her. If it’s time to hire a community manager, make sure you find one who shares your companies values and is passionate about what you do.

The next time you speak with your community manager, say thank you. Thank you for your tireless efforts, many of which (especially all those media pitches) go unseen.

The next time you talk salary for that community manager, remember that it’s communications that builds your brand reputation, that secures donors and investors, and attracts customers.

If you’re a small business looking to hire a consultant to manage your community (and cut down on some costs), please visit and get started today!


Sebastian Thrun: Failure Is Beautiful

Sebastian ThrunWhen Sebastian Thrun approached the podium at Cleveland Clinic’s Ideas for Tomorrow Wednesday, I was both intrigued and put-off by his saunter and his eye-wear. It’s not his fault – I generally approach fame with a certain sense of skepticism. But when one of his opening lines was: “I hope to show you how often I fail,” I was hooked.

It turns out Thrun and I have a common passion for entrepreneurism, for experimenting with new processes in order to change our industries significantly. But, thinking and creating without boundaries involves a great deal of risk taking.

Thrun gave us a chronology of his successes by highlighting his failures because he claims “there is no learning without failure.” Health-tech entrepreneurs often risk everything – investing countless time and money developing ideas that may never work. Or they’ll get their gadget to work on Wednesday – only to find that someone else brought it to market late Tuesday night. These challenges are part of the process of innovation, which Thurn describes as a process of testing and failing.

Process of Innovation according to Sebastian Thrun

Each failure brings us a little closer to our goal – even reshapes the end goal, transforming it into something we wouldn’t have dreamed possible at the outset. If you told me 20 years ago that by 2012, approximately 76% of people would consult the Internet, Dr. Google, before calling their physician I never would’ve believed you.  But then computers became smaller and smaller, information more and more easily accessible, and it’s changed not only the way we ask questions but the very questions themselves.

Someday, someone is going to make health as addictive as video games – and make it lasting – and I want to be there to see it happen. Industries are changed by people who are fearless. Failure teaches us an important lesson: hard work is no substitute for vision. You have to have vision when the experiment you’ve been working on, the app you’ve been developing for years, or the pitch you’ve been researching for months, goes wrong. Without vision, we’d all throw in the towel and learn to love a 9-5 job. “In all these failures,” says Thrun, “there is some beautiful insight that drives us forward.”

Let’s cling to the vision.

The Ingredients of Innovation by Sebastian Thrun

Photo of slide from Sebastian Thrun’s Cleveland Clinic Ideas for Tomorrow presentation

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.

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?