A tweet a day keeps the doctor away

We are experiencing one of the biggest shifts in how we communicate in human history. Thanks to social media and mobile technologies we can now multitask, search news, shrinks distances between our relationships and browse several activity feeds at once. But how is it impactful for the health care industry? In a generation that is more likely to go online to answer general health questions then ask a doctor, what role does social media play in this process?

Recent studies have shown that more than 40% of consumers say that information found via social media affects the way they deal with their health. People between 18 to 24 year olds are more than 2x as likely than 45 to 54 year olds to use social media for health-related discussions. Thus, it is not surprising 31% of health care organizations have specific social media guidelines in writing.

Social health revolution is on. If you want to delve deeper in this phenomenon, in this article you can find some meaningful statistics and figures that clearly illustrate its’ magnitude.


The Big Data within you

Microsensors in your shoes compile data on where you go and what you do. Your workout clothes track your daily progress at the gym and tell you when to slow down or speed up. The pill you swallow reports back on the state of your digestion, vital signs, and overall wellbeing. And as you sleep, a headband monitors your REM patterns.

Sci-fi fantasy? Not at all. It is merely a glimpse into what might be possible through a movement called “The Quantified Self” that has become mainstream.

The Quantified Self employs technology, mobile devices, sensors embedded in clothing and wearable bands, to drive greater self-awareness by tracking data related to exercise, diet, weight and other health maintenance, financial management, learning and so forth. Almost 70% of the American adults already quantify their lives in areas related to health and wellness and this is just the beginning. Analysts are predicting that we will see even more growth in the months and years ahead. ABI predicts that more than 100M personal tracking devices will be sold each year by 2016. There are reasonable expectations that personal tracking will be a $12B industry by 2020. Investments have been huge, as well: Fitbit raised more than $40M this year, BodyMedia was bought by Jawbone for more than $100M, and personal informatics projects on Kickstarter have booked more than $6M in revenue alone in 2013.

While it’s clear these apps and devices have attracted a loyal following, most experts are still trying to figure out what to do with all of this data collected. For example, there are several challenges to overcome before using this data in healthcare practice. Quality is a big issue: the data need to be good enough to be used in a clinical setting. Not to drown physicians in a tsunami of personal data is another aspect to consider. Data streams need to reach practitioners in a format that’s easily consumable, searchable, and analyzable. Finally, these continuous data streams need to be contextualized as well. Doctors need to know what external factors could have caused, for example, a rapid spike in blood pressure or true diagnosis can’t happen.

In the video below you can get a glimpse on how the Quantified Self is already changing our lives. If you want numbers that show the blooming business of data have a look to this article published in Harvard Business Review. If you prefer a written introduction to the field you will probably enjoy this report at The Economist.

The scientist, the physician and the engineer

Today, business evolves at a rapid pace. Innovation is more critical than ever. Health care is not an exception. Over the last 60 years there have been significant advances in medicine and there is clearly an opportunity to do more… much more.

As health care has become more complex, developing the products and services we will be using tomorrow and identifying ways to do better what we do today requires a wide breath of knowledge, skills and abilities. Multidisciplinary teams offer a unique space for nurturing new ideas, enabling them to grow, mature and evolve until they are ready for patients.

Scientists, physicians and engineers, even designers, are the professions that are clearly involved in the Med Tech industry. Put them in a room all together and sparks will fly and compelling solutions to medical needs will emerge.  That is if the collaborators trust each other and understand their different approaches to problem solving.

Differences in how to formulate and solve problems of physicians, engineers and scientists can also lead to some conflict. It is no news that the absence of a common vocabulary between these three types of professionals makes more difficult to communicate productively.

Physicians are trained to process patient symptoms and then determine the most common diagnosis based on historical information. Engineers make natural collaborations with physicians due to greater similarities in their approach to problem solving, compared to scientists.  Both types of professionals start with existing solutions that they apply to problems.  But engineers go one step further by utilizing existing solutions technology as the starting point for further optimization and customization.

However, scientists and engineers try to breakdown a problem to find a solution that requires the least amount of modification of an existing technology. In contrast to both engineers and physicians, scientists focus on components that can lead to a root cause of a problem.  But because the solutions are not practical or available at current time, this causes physicians’ and engineers’ frustration.

Professionals have different thinking styles depending on the formal training they received. In the following video you can listen to Dan Azagury MD, surgeon at Hôpitaux Universitaires in Geneva and lecturer at Design Health Barcelona program, explaining his own experience doing medical innovation in multidisciplinary teams as a 2011-2012 fellow of Stanford Biodesign and how it lead to co-found Ciel Medical Inc.


You can also learn more about the different ways of thinking of scientists, engineers and physicians and how to take advantage of them to bring ideas to life, communicate better and foster health care innovation in the following article written by Dan Buckland at Harvard and MIT at MedGadget.