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The Promise of Mobile Technology for Social Change

December 12, 2011 Leave a comment

I recently found myself thinking about thinking about mobile marketing in an unexpected way. Last week, with my morning coffee and a copy of the Boston Globe in hand, I came across an article that stopped me in my tracks. The story that I am referring to is probably familiar to most by now. It was the account of 19-year-old Gulzna (who goes by one name), the Afghani girl who agreed to marry her rapist in order to be released from jail.

A little back story on Gulzna and her harrowing tale. Gulzna was 17 years old when minding her own business within the confines of her own home, an intruder broke in, tied her up, beat her, and raped her. After giving some thought to the matter, Gulzna did a brave thing for an Afghani woman. She went to the police to report the crime. You see in Afghanistan, being a woman is akin to being a criminal. When Gulzna reported the crime, officials scoffed at her, assured that she must have done something to entice the man. Not only was her act of courage met with disdain, she was accused of adultery and sentenced to jail. Two years later, a deal was offered that gave her a chance at living outside of prison. Gulzna could leave jail if she agreed to marry her rapist. That way, the dishonor she brought on to her family by being raped would be restored.

So what does this have to do with mobile marketing? Every time I hear stories like this one I have this pit in my stomach feeling that there is absolutely no hope for the disenfranchised, downtrodden, and in this case women, in countries like Afghanistan. Even the efforts of the United States over the last 10 years have done absolutely nothing to change the mindset of this tribal nation. So where is there any glimmer of hope? I think it comes in the form of mobile technology.

Look at what is happening all over the world in areas where the civil rights of citizens are absent? In Egypt, the government toppled. In Libya, Gadhafi is gone. In Russia this very week, a tainted election has brought thousands into the streets in protest. All of this was done without foreign intervention or military force. And how is this possible? It is all due to the unique ability for people to reach out to each other and create a gathering in an instant. With the surprise factor, and a massive turn out, it is very hard for the oppressors to be ready and waiting with crushing force. It is even more difficult for them to cover up their actions, especially when large crowds of people are armed with cameras.

The main benefit of mobile technology is that it can reach anyone, anywhere, any time. It provides a constant conversation that can be impossible to stop once it gets going. Imagine if all of the women in Afghanistan had access to cell phones or computers? They could act as citizen reporters and capture images of crimes against them as they happened. They could organize support groups in the quiet anonymity of their homes, without arousing suspicion. They could connect with their foreign “sisters” who could talk them through their darkest moments. Perhaps they could then raise a generation who might have enough enlightened and emboldened members to finally take a stand together. Their abusers would be exposed for the entire world to see. The nature of their misguided notions of right and wrong might then stick to each and every one of them to the extent that maybe, just maybe, they start to develop an understanding of their errant ways. Encouragingly, a 2007 census revealed that 165,000 per 1000 Afghani households already had cell phones.

I don’t think there will be a dramatic change tomorrow, but for once I feel like to winds of freedom are drifting into places where they are unstoppable. All we need to do is make sure to be on the other end of the call when it comes.

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The Promise of an Experience-based Economy in Healthcare Delivery

October 23, 2011 Leave a comment

I’ve been thinking about the discussion we had in class a few weeks ago about the present economy and the notion put forth by economist Joe Pine that it is now all about the consumer experience. To remind you, in a TED talk Pine takes us through the evolution of the US economy. His discussion follows the progression of our economic engine as one that was started in the trade of commodities, eventually morphing into one based on the exchange of goods, and more recently one based on the provision of services. Pine surmised that the current iteration has moved us to an experience based economy, where giving the consumer active engagement will be the chief influencer of commerce.

Its always amazing to me when you encounter an idea that is so well laid out and logical and then you start seeing evidence if it everywhere you go. It is the light bulb effect and I find myself saying “duh” more often than not. I had that happen to me yesterday when I was at the Connected Health Symposium, a two-day conference sponsored by Partners Health Care Center for Connected Health. This conference was an amazing gathering of minds. It was a mix of technology experts, entrepreneurs and healthcare providers who were exchanging ideas on how the modern day issues with the cost and quality of delivering healthcare might be better solved.

Walking around the exhibition hall, the evidence of an experience driven economy was all around. Since one of the biggest threats to our future economy is the decline in the overall health of our population (and the bill that will come due as a result), allowing the ability for personal health maintenance as an experience was a big theme. In one corner, there were home- based applications designed to help people as they get older. One product in particular offered a home computer or tablet-based system with a self-care management console. Through engaging features thoughtfully designed for an aging senior, it offers an easier way to get through the business of maintaining independent living, as one grows old. In another corner, there were telemedicine devices. Through smart phones and cellular technology, patients are monitored for medically worrisome conditions while in the comfort of their own home. Physicians, who are increasingly scarce in their availability for in-person consultation time, can receive remotely transmitted monitoring data while still fully involved in managing an active medical practice.  These are just two examples of where the medical marketplace is headed and it is all about creating an experience.

Just after lunch, I watched the presentation given by this year’s keynote speaker, Dr. Atul Gawande, a local surgeon from Brigham and Women’s hospital who has garnered international attention for his articulation of concern for what’s wrong with our system of healthcare. He is both a published author and a columnist for the New Yorker Magazine, as well as a public health researcher. Dr. Gawande hit the nail on the head when he talked about the disconnect between the amount of money that we spend in this country and the quality of patient outcomes. The United States spends more than any other nation on healthcare but we rank somewhere in the 20’s or 30’s for overall quality of health. One study looked within our own borders for evidence of a best practice and a narrower cost of care to quality outcome gap. What was found was eye opening. In smaller communities where health systems were coordinated and designed around the patient experience as a first priority, the amount of money spent was lower and the overall health outcomes were high. In other words, when systems were set up so that patient care was delivered in a manner where how the patient experienced care mattered more than what was delivered, costs were reduced.

Is this a fluke? No, I don’t think so. Putting the patient’s experience first means that they are subjected to less repetitive testing, a reduction in mistakes and errors due to disconnected care, and a more meaningful relationship with those in charge of their care. It is a really important example of what giving customers a meaningful experience has the potential for doing. The challenge, of course, will come in convincing medical meccas like Boston that making this transition is worth it. Presently, there are more hospitals, outpatient ambulatory care centers, imaging centers, physicians and specialists within a twenty mile radius than just about anywhere in the world. The competition is fierce and the patient’s experience certainly is not at the center of how things are done. But the bricks and mortar that draw lines around these organizations no longer need to be barriers to patient centered care. Technological enhancements via remotely controlled portable devices make it possible for the physician to have their own experience too while making the needs of the patient the priority for cost effective quality care. Examples of this type of technology were all around and on display at the conference.

It will be interesting to see how an experienced based economy will guide healthcare delivery in the next decade. For the first time in a long time, thinking about the predictions for our nation’s future seemed to have a glimmer of promise. Let’s hope that those in a position of influence have their moment of “duh” relatively soon.

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My so-called on line target audience identity

September 28, 2011 Leave a comment

I don’t know if anyone else is experiencing this but I am becoming paranoid by the steady stream of advertisements that are coming my way these days. After learning about audience targeting methods last week, I have been paying more attention to the banners and pop ups. Knowing that they are inspired by my searching behavior, social media usage and on line consumption, I am a getting a little worried about the picture that is being painted of me.

For example, this morning I went on to Boston.com to read something that I had seen earlier in the Globe. Immediately, I was greeted with the opportunity to get a home equity line of credit, an invitation to attend a private high school’s open house, a preview opportunity for luxury properties, and an offer for free phones from Verizon. So I am thinking, this means that someone somewhere thinks I am a wealthy isolationist spender who isn’t enamored with her cell phone. So part of this is right. I do hate my cell phone.

Next, I went to check the weather on weather.com. More consumerism, with an offer for a super duper visa card. But then, there was also an invitation to become a social worker, an enticement for joint pain relief, and $9 car insurance. Very funny. This set of offers has me pegged as someone looking for a highly altruistic, low paying job suffering from degenerative bone disease who is dumb enough to think that there is such a thing as $9 car insurance. My shoulder is killing me, but $9 car insurance? Really?

Finally, I wanted to look up a medical procedure so I visited Webmd.com. The top banner, which occupies a fair amount of real estate I must add, jumped out at me with an eye popping, attention grabbing message from my friends at Eli Lilly that read “Depression is more than a bad word”. I have searched the recesses of my brain to recall if I had ever looked into any mental health issues and I’m coming up with nothing. I was also targeted for acne remedies, melanoma, and cholesterol lowering drugs. I wondered what data they had on me to think that I might be depressed with skin issues and high cholesterol. I don’t really see how I arrived at this.

I can’t help but feel a little misunderstood. It is a good thing that this artificial judgment doesn’t really matter in the long run. However, the notion of how this image of me was created in the first place has me more than curious. Without really trying, it seems that something has gone astray. So as an act of rebellion, I’d like to announce that I am going to engage in a little target audience mishegoss. Each day I pledge to engage in some bizarre online activity just to see how many strange combinations of targeted messages I can get to appear simultaneously. Who knows, maybe in the end a realistic version of me will appear, where offers for products related to companionship, loyalty, parenting, education and alcohol (ok, so I do like to have some fun) start streaming in. I’ll let you know.

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