Magic and mHealth at TEDMED and mHS09

By Brian Dolan
06:23 pm

"Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic," Jeffrey L. Sturchio, President and CEO of the Global Health Council declared at the Foundation for the NIH's mHealth Summit (mHS09) in Washington D.C. last week. Sturchio noted that the quote is a famous statement made by British physicist and science fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke. Sturchio explained that after attending case study presentations at the Summit for the past two days, it seemed to him that the mHealth pilots and programs taking place here and in developing countries were nothing short of magic.

Earlier that morning, during his keynote presentation, Ambassador Eric Goosby, the U.S. Global AIDS Coordinator for the U.S. President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, urged attendees not to pursue wireless health services because they are a "shiny new technology" or because they are "innovative, creative and flashy," but rather because, if they do improve health outcomes for patients, then they should be core tools for medical workers and global health programs.

Sturchio and Goosby both have it right.

For me, the talk of magical, shiny and flashy technology solutions at the mHealth Summit in Washington D.C. was especially well-timed since I had just flown in from the TEDMED conference in San Diego. Between presentations at TEDMED, which included talks by regenerative medicine entrepreneurs, the leaders of the consumer genomics movement, and the wireless health leaders we often write about -- the event's organizers had magicians, actors and musicians perform -- (David Blaine, Goldie Hawn, Herbie Hancock among them). This Technology Entertainment Design (TED) event for the medical (MED) world seemed well aware of the importance of entertainment, flash and shine. TEDMED's very existence is testament to the importance of these concepts to an emerging technology industry's rise to acceptance -- without them consumer uptake is slow, stunted or stopped.

Ambassador Goosby is right to note that wireless health technologies should not be tapped for their "flash" alone, however, once wireless health solutions and tools are proven to improve outcomes, why not make sure they are shiny, flashy and entertaining solutions, too? Wouldn't that improve engagement for patients and health workers, alike?

"We need to find more enjoyable ways to get people engaged. Maybe we need to hire Hollywood — seriously, maybe we do.” Robert Schwarzberg, CEO, Sensei recently stated at a wireless health conference.

Having a wireless health solution that leads to better health outcomes is not enough -- the experience of using these tools and services can't be ignored during development either. So, maybe Sturchio's Clarke quote was a bit off the mark -- wireless health tools actually do need to be distinguishable from magic. There can't be any mystery: We need to demonstrate how wireless health solutions work and show whether they improve patient health outcomes.

Then again, the explanation for how a particularly impressive magic trick really works is sometimes more engaging than the trick itself. That certainly was true for David Blaine's explanation for how he held his breath underwater for more than 17 minutes (he taught attendees at TEDMED).

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