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Gaining Perspectives on mHealth

Dec 21, 2011, 10:14 AM, Posted by Al Shar

In my recent blog post summarizing December’s mHealth Summit, I began by saying that the mHealth organizers must have been pleased with the conference, given its growth in attendance and engagement.

We were equally pleased with RWJF and Pioneer’s presence at the meeting – in fact, I’d say the meeting was a resounding success from our perspective.

Pioneer grantees Ben Sawyer and Debra Lieberman were both on panels featuring their work in health games and mobile technology. Deborah Estrin and Ida Sim announced the launch of Open mHealth, which is supported with funding from RWJF’s Pioneer Portfolio. And a session focused on this summer's mHealth Evidence meeting that was conceived of and co-sponsored by Pioneer.

Our Public Health Portfolio was also there looking for interesting perspectives on how mHealth could be deployed by public health departments to address a variety of health issues.

And finally, I was lucky enough to moderate a special session on a topic of keen interest to me and the portfolio.

“What I Really Need from mHealth: Five Perspectives on Value” featured a great cast of panelists including Robert Jarrin, senior director of Government Affairs for Qualcomm; Carol McCall, chief strategy officer at GNS Healthcare; Anmol Madan, founder of and visiting researcher at MIT Media Lab; and Richard Katz, director of cardiology at George Washington University Hospital.

Our session was structured around an imaginary mobile health application. The panelists discussed the value  of the application and how to demonstrate that value from the point of view of the individual, provider, various payers, regulators and researchers. This generated a fascinating conversation in which participants spoke from both a professional and personal perspective. Toward the end, we opened the discussion up to the attendees, which led to an informative and engaging discussion that will hopefully extend far beyond the session. The various perspectives are not completely aligned but yield something quite important when they do come together.

But wait, as they say on TV, there’s more! In addition to our panelists, we brought together about a dozen thought leaders, including representatives from organizations like NIH, Google, GNS Healthcare and the National Science Foundation, for a series of lively discussions about the future of mHealth and how to build value for all the players in the ecosystem. There was no lack of good ideas or strongly held opinions, and more questions were raised than answers offered. However, at the end of the night, we could all see light at the end of the tunnel. And that light came from a greater understanding of the value others saw in mHealth. From this newly fashioned broader vision, I’m hopeful we all left with a better sense of the way forward and with new ideas on how we could each play a role. 

I look forward to sharing more of what we learned and what this might mean for our investments in mHealth moving forward – and hearing your thoughts as well.

How do we get health games to help millions of people?

May 26, 2011, 5:51 AM, Posted by RWJF Blog Team

By Brian Quinn, assistant vice president, Research and Evaluation,

I attended the Games for Health Conference last week in Boston.  It was a great introduction to the gaming field and all of the work that’s being done in this space to try and improve healthy behaviors and increase healthy outcomes.  In addition to several of our Health Games Research grantees, I saw interesting presentations and demos on Kairos Labs’, HopeLab’s Zamzee and Firsthand Technology’s game to promote better oral health habits among children.

One of the themes running throughout the conference is now that we’ve got all of this experience and evidence about how to use games to improve health, what are the next steps for the field?  That is, how does Games for Health get taken to scale to have an even broader impact?  The field has a lot of demonstrated success, energy and activity behind it, but health gamers face a unique challenge.  Successful health games need to simultaneously meet three requirements: 1) they need to make sure that the games are fun and entertaining; 2) they need to make sure that they have a real and measurable impact on health; and 3) they need to be marketable and revenue-generating.   Tackling all three goals simultaneously creates a unique set of challenges. The good news is that the field seems energized to take it on.

As we think about how to take the next step, the field needs to first consider what factors are necessary and sufficient for success.  Is it more research?  Is it better connections with providers?  Is it better inroads with non-gamers who would benefit from health games, such as seniors?  What can we learn from other fields?  What thoughts do you have?  How do we get health games to help millions of people?