Mobile Health 2011 Conference Trip Report

On 4-5 May 2011, I attended the Mobile Health 2011 conference (@texting4health and #MH11) at Stanford. The theme: What Really Works. I had very few expectations and was uncertain how it would turn out. It was a great, well-run conference. BJ Fogg (@bjfogg) and his team did a fabulous job.

Each session included a panel of 3-4 speakers, ending with a Q&A session at the end. The majority of the 12-minute talks were interesting. Many of the moderators asked the first question to get things started; all should have done so. It helped maintain the nice flow of the conference. (I’ll definitely recommend this tactic–the moderator starting off the Q&A session with the panel–for the conferences I help organize.)

There were ~20-25 minute breaks between each session to allow attendees to meet and converse. I’d have preferred slightly longer breaks, but mostly because I kept having nice conversations that kept being cut short. Many of the folk I met were working on interesting projects; I hope to follow their work and keep in touch. Though I missed getting to talk with a number of folk, I believe there were still at least twenty with whom I did interact and would like to stay in touch.  Overall, at the conference, we had

  • 60 speakers (when you include last minute walk-ons),
  • 18 hours together, and
  • 6 hours of conversation outside the talks.

It was great to chat with Jen S. McCabe (@jensmccabe) about Contagion Health and Health Month merging to become Habit Labs, now in Seattle. I believe she’s looking to hire some mad scientists. Chia Hwu (@chiah) demonstrated TapCloud, her company QuBop’s new augmented reality game to get people to move around.  I recall passing on info about the good folk at Portland, Oregon based Insignia Health to others looking to understand patient adherence and compliance. I enjoyed a variety of conversations with a wide range of folk including researchers, students, entrepreneurs, designers, and technologists from small and large companies, universities, hospitals, and various forms of government. I also enjoyed connecting a variety of people together whom I had only just met at the conference when it looked like they could help each other. This happened several times.

My favorite session: What Really Works with Multi-touchpoint Ecosystems, moderated by Arna Ionescu of Proteus Biomedical. The panel included Arna talking about Proteus Biomedical’s cool patch and pill detection technology, Tim Roberts of FitBit, Roni Zeiger talking about Google Body, and Larry Swiader talking about (using humour and fun to encourage birth control). Arna did a great job moderating.

Some of the details that caught my eye from the speakers are listed below. Sometimes what I mention wasn’t even the main gist of the talk, just something I found interesting. I’ve certainly left out interesting things. Presentation slides are often available in the bio page for each speaker linked below and on BJ Fogg‘s Persuasion Tech Lab Slideshare page. @username indicates the Twitter username linked via

  • Susannah Fox (@SusannahFox) from the Pew Internet and American Life Project was a great opening to the conference. She’s an engaging speaker and a perfect representative for Pew. The transcript of her presentation is available. Peer-to-peer healthcare is what Susannah indicated as the next frontier. One in four people self track. One in five look for health information online, searching for others with similar issues. A new report that she referenced during her talk on the trend of self trackers came out 12 May 2011 titled The Social Life of Health Information, 2011. [ Side note: The first Quantified Self conference will be held 28-29 May 2011 at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, CA. ]
  • Patty Mechael (@PattyMechael) talked about the UN Millenium Villages Project.
  • Katie Malbon (@TextInTheCityNY) described how they used text messages to provide health information and birth control reminders to adolescents at the Mount Sinai Adolescent Health Center. She noted that the “typical American teen sends 1500 text messages per day.”
  • Heather Cole-Lewis (@hcolelewis) summarized some of the research on What Really Works in Using SMS to Improve Health Outcomes.
  • Amos Adler of MEMOTEXT (@memotext) uses IVR (Interactive Voice Response) and mobile phones for glaucoma patient adherence. This project was funded by Microsoft Be Well Fund and collaborated with Johns Hopkins University’s Wilmer Eye Institute.  I was surprised that the IVR was touchtone-based and didn’t seem to have a speech recognition component, at least based on the demo.  I didn’t get to talk with him afterwards about it, though.
  • Arna Ionescu of Proteus Biomedical showed the neat patch and pill technology to determine when a pill was taken. The patch also includes an accelerometer and a 2-lead ECG so that movement, heart rate, and ECG, can be shown for a patient. This is Proteus’s Raisin Technology. I’d love to see the interface to the patch be well-documented so that data from it could be used by a variety of applications. I’m also looking forward to seeing some of the adhesion technology that they investigate for future patches.
  • Tim Roberts (@timroberts) of FitBit talked about their product, a small, clip on accelerometer. They unexpectedly found that “mysterious challenges” can be useful. On the FitBit, various users debate the maximum number of leaves that appear on the flower display. FitBit does not indicate. People try to determine it, race against each other, and end up doing more activity. Though they provide an API (interface) to their website data, I’d like to see a well-documented API to the device, itself. In the meanwhile, Kyle Machulis (@qdot) of OpenYou (@openyouorg) is working on libfitbit, a library to retrieve data from the FitBit.
  • Roni Zeiger, M.D. (@rzeiger) of Google demonstrated Google Body (@GoogleBody). It uses WebGL to allow one to view a 3D model of the human body. This started as a 20% project. One of the neat features is being able to search for a body part and have that part and layer highlighted as you search.
  • Larry Swiader (@lawrenceswiader) of The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy introduced Bedsider which uses humour and a focus on better sex instead of just science to promote birth control. It’s a great idea and good use of typical marketing tactics to get information across. Allison Behr of Smarty-Pants Communications is the San Francisco-based freelance writer of their very good and funny text messages.
  • Kendra Markle (@kendramarkle) mentioned research on adjusting the unconscious elephant to help people change their behavior. The elephant metaphor, I believe, comes from the book The Happiness Hypothesis (here’s the Amazon page for it). I suspect some of this research will be useful for the FDA’s Center for Tobacco Products (@FDATobacco) current investigation into various mobile, web, and social media technologies for smoking cessation tools.
  • Ida Sim of UCSF talked about the Implications of Open Architectures. She’s one of the key people involved with the Open mHealth project, promoting open architectures for health technology, meaning well-defined and documented, publicly available interfaces between all components. The technical and governance approaches they’re considering was published in Toward an Open mHealth Ecosystem. The NIH PROMIS project also looks interesting: “a system of highly reliable, valid, flexible, precise, and responsive assessment tools that measure patient-reported health status.”
  • Aza Raskin (@azaaza) of Massive Health talked about the importance of feedback loops.
  • Brian Krejcarek of GreenGoose (@greengoose) has been developing small, cheap stickers that include accelerometers and wireless transmitters so that one can stick them on anything (e.g., water bottle, toothbrush, etc.) to track usage of those items. Hopes to make them available cheaply (almost free), eventually.
  • Steven Dean (@sgdean) of G51 Studio mentioned the DIY Health class that he teaches at NYU’s ITP.
  • Steph Habif (@StephHabif) showed a text message conversation with an obese patient trying to cut down on eating bread by simply checking in, priodically, with a text message of “Bread check”. It helped that there was a good and trusting relationship between the patient and doctor. Since Steph, as a health behaviorist, was familiar with her patient, she also knew how to interpret answers that might indicate that something else was going on.
  • Jonathan Attwood of ZamZee (@zamzee) is trying to get kids to move more. Think “FitBit” for kids. Using a small accelerometer dongle connected to games. Spun out of HopeLab.
  • Bojan Bostjancic of Azumio showed how they’re using the iPhone camera and flash turned on to detect heart rate in their Instant Heart Rate application.
  • Rajiv Mehta of Bhageera Consulting talked about finding ways to reduce complexity. Used Cystic Fibrosis regimen as an example. It’s complicated and changes over time. Cancer treatment would be another example. His product, released at the end of April 2011, is Tonic, an iPhone app used to remember/track everything in your health regimen.
  • Michael Kim (@michaelbkim) of Kairos Labs (@kairoslabs) is working on using games for habit development.  He’s also helping organize the Habit Design Meetup (@habitdesign).
  • Sonny Vu (@sonnyvu) of AgaMatrix talked about their Nugget product (co-developed with Sanofi-Aventis), a blood glucose meter for the iPhone. I believe he said they might be open to providing a public API to the device, but I didn’t get a chance to talk with him about it. Big market for improving non-compliance and non-adherence. Slide 11 from his presentation is a good slide on things one doesn’t think about in health businesses.
  • Michael Cross of Kaiser Permanente Mobility Innovation Labs (@kpgarfield) mentioned their Garfield Healthcare Innovation Center Mock Hospital Space where they try out new technologies in a simulated, physical clinical setting.
  • Eric Leven of RipRoad is providing infrastructure for mobile health apps. He mentioned Columbia SMS Flunet. They’re also used by Text In The City.
  • BJ Fogg mentioned: Avoid the big brain trap. Aim for the smallest matter. Build small, iterate, figure out what works. BJ’s 3×3 of health tools. He also said to check out his #calmingtech class.

Mobile Health 2011 was a fun conference with a lot of great men and women in attendance working on interesting projects. I highly recommend attending next year. I hope to attend, again, myself. [I did attend Mobile Health 2012 and posted a trip report!] Thanks again to BJ Fogg and Tanna Drapkin for organizing and running an amazing conference.

—Jeff Kellem (@slantedhall / @composerjk)

p.s. Here are a list of people tweeting during MH11, an archive of the #MH11 tweets, and various other MH11 conference summaries:

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3 Responses to Mobile Health 2011 Conference Trip Report

  1. Pingback: Mobile Health 2011: A Look Back at What Really Worked « Unnatural Language Processing

  2. Pingback: WHAT DID PEOPLE SAY ABOUT MOBILE HEALTH 2011? – Mobile Health 2012

  3. Pingback: Mobile Health 2012 Conference Trip Report | Slanted Hall

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