Summer reading: Jody Ranck's digital health field guide

By Brian Dolan
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Brian Dolan, Editor, MobiHealthNewsIn May GigaOm published its first ebook, called Connected Health: How mobile phones, cloud and big data will reinvent healthcare, written by longtime digital health scholar and consultant Jody Ranck. Within the book’s more than 200 pages is perhaps the most comprehensive and studied analysis of connected health that I have had the pleasure to read.

MobiHealthNews has long been a fan of Ranck’s work and he has appeared in most of our video reports from past mHealth Summit events. On the last occasion we covered a report he penned for GigaOm, Ranck helpfully explained why a looser definition for mobile health was a good thing, which likely reduced some of the widespread navel-gazing that was popular in mHealth circles at the time.

As the subtitle suggests, Ranck’s latest work focuses on a number of digital health technology trends, but chief among them is mobile. Here’s a few lines from the introduction that deftly pegs the current conversation:

“The important point here is to move beyond the mere fascination with the device and connect the device with people and data flows so that the right person gets the right care at the right time—a realization of anytime, anyplace health that puts the patient or citizen at the center of a technology. Human-centered design processes can further improve the quality of care and extend our resources through the focus on data-driven care that can optimize health outcomes,” Ranck writes.

“The connected-health story will not only be a story about technology,” he continues. “It will require innovations from service and experience-design specialists. In the eyes of most who have used the healthcare system, the sector leaves much to be desired. Based on their experience in other fields, designers could apply new ways of thinking about service delivery to the health sector.”

Ranck’s analysis is one of the better studied missives because it includes examples of digital health pilots, projects and companies on nearly every page – a good number were previously unknown to us.

The author also pulls no punches: “At the moment, there is considerable growth, but the market remains fragmented. What is missing is a framework for bringing stakeholders to the table to build the foundation of a sustainable market. The Continua Health Alliance is one model focusing on standards for Bluetooth interoperability of medical devices. The mHealth Alliance is a rather weak or failed model (extremely limited impact, absence of leadership in building cooperation) that has not lived up to expectations for those of us involved in the 2008 Bellagio summit on eHealth, and there is a growing need for an institution that could take the next steps in its place.”

Ouch.

Along with the deep contextual details and a few acerbic comments like the one above, Ranck employs an anthropological lens at various times throughout the book, which he described as a "field guide" for those working in or interested in digital health.

“There are plenty of reasons to be skeptical,” Ranck writes. “Rarely a day goes by without a new press release of a new mHealth or fitness app that promises to fundamentally change health care. Anthropologists studying technology and society often refer to the ‘political economy of hope and hype’ that has plagued biotechnology, and we’re certainly seeing the same with the so-called IT revolution. To see opportunities in a new and rapidly growing space, you need to step back and look at the structural transformation from a distance. I hope this book can contribute to the connected health discussion and debate by asking critical questions and pushing for sustainable technology policies and market approaches.”

Ranck’s Connected Health, contributes to the discussion tremendously. It is also a steal at less than $8 – get your copy from GigaOm here.

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