FDA Mobile App Guidelines and Mobile Health Evolution

Remember the last time you “had a hunch” that your child had an ear infection, but you took her to the pediatrician anyway for a diagnosis, just to make sure? Well, your smartphone (and accompanying app and hardware attachment) can now perform the same task and save you the trip to doctor’s office by sending secure and encrypted photos and videos directly to a physician! And the smartphone app, or mobile enabled device app you use will be held to the same Food and Drug Administration (FDA) standards as the echoscope used by your pediatrician, according to the new FDA mobile health-related app guidelines issued on Monday.

After two years of feedback and comment periods, the long awaited FDA guidelines are intended to regulate health-related software applications on smartphones, tablets and mobile computing devices. If a mobile app is intended for use in performing a medical device function, such as providing disease diagnosis or disease prevention recommendations, that app will be considered a medical device, regardless of the platform on which it is run. According to this new guidance, a mobile app that meets the definition of a device in section 201(h) of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FD&C Act) is intended: to be used as an accessory to a regulated medical device, or; to transform a mobile platform into a regulated medical device.

While mobile handsets are not addressed under this guidance, the impact of their technological evolution cannot be ignored. Handsets in the near future will feature components that allow for real-time data processing from the devices’ gyroscopes, accelerometers and electromagnetic compasses.

The juxtaposition of this mobile technology and these new guidelines shows great promise in mHealth and a propensity for the FDA to be an involved partner with the industry via its guidance. The process put to this point has been very fluid, with many key stakeholders such as innovators, investors, practitioners, and care delivery teams being deeply involved in the emergence of the new guidance.  The rapid revolution of mHealth is allowing patients to increasingly become deeper participants in their own health.  As the healthcare ecosystem continue to become more patient-centric, this will help facilitate new modalities of care.

This recently released guidance has provided greater clarity into what is considered a health-related app under FDA regulation, and is significant for narrowing the scope of interpretation. Currently, there are thousands of health-related apps available in the mobile ecosystem, from calorie counters to physical fitness trackers. However, most of these do not perform the functions of a “medical device” and pose negligible medical issues to consumers, according to Jeffrey Shuren, M.D., director of the FDA’s Center for Devices and Radiologic Health. It is now safe to say that these apps (including the nearly 100 apps that have already been approved under these guidelines) as well as app interfaces that act either as a medical device or as a conduit for a “medical device,” will be regulated by the FDA under these guidelines.

The latitude given by the FDA guidance for apps that can contribute to our wellbeing without being regulated allows developers to broaden the scope of applications offered to people who can derive personal benefit – and data – that can be powerful self-help tools.

For example, a coprocessor that can access data as you walk, run, breathe, sleep, can give patients tremendous insight into their health. The data gathered can be (and already is being) used as primers for patients’ physicians and caregivers. The days of “I’ve fallen…” are gone. Now, if you fall, your phone may instantaneously alert your clinic, physician, nurse or caregiver.

Using the example mentioned earlier in this post, the cost savings potential achieved via a “mobile” ear infection diagnosis is considerable. The patient and caregiver can initiate the care process from the convenience of their own home (which saves them time and money); the physician can make a tele-health or remote diagnosis (which reduces overhead expenses and time needed to make the diagnosis), which can ultimately provide a cost savings to the entire system.

The “structured” freedom delivered by the FDA to developers will allow continued innovation in the mHealth space and allow them to keep pace with technological advancements. The results will enable current and future medical app innovators to adhere to common standards that will help ensure improved access, cost and quality – the pillars of healthcare transformation – to patients and society.

Marcus Gordon, Vice President, Digital Health and Provider Communications, Atlanta. Follow Marcus on Twitter: @tri3mg

Rich Sharp, Senior Vice President, Digital Health, Chicago. Follow Rich on Twitter: @richs

Portions of this post also appeared on Edelman.com

Image credit: IntelFreePress

CES 2013: The Digital Health Takeaway

Nothing describes the carnival atmosphere that is the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) better than a seeing a fork that buzzes in your mouth if you eat too fast. But that instant feedback based on simple data (time between bites) prompts a behavior designed to improve your health.

This is a simple path, and as Digital Health becomes more complicated, one thread was clear throughout sessions at the CES Digital Health Summit: Be simple, responsible and connected.

What’s clear from a Digital Health perspective is there are three connections marketers must consider: device-device, device-people, people-people. That path really speaks to the devices we use to measure data from ourselves and communicate through another device (e.g., monitor to mobile phone, computer), the retrieval of data and its use as a diagnostic tool, and the sharing of our data with others.

One great example is the work done by Omron Healthcare*. Omron has a number of products that can be linked to its website through consumers’ computers. Downloaded data can be shared with friends and others on the site and on social channels.

Dr. Mehmet Oz, speaker on Day 2, crystalized the main need from the digital health community: Create simple products for those who fall outside the margins of most healthcare discussions. While we see a multitude of products that can measure our running pace, calories burned, oxygen use, etc., and are geared to athletes and enthusiasts, most Americans don’t get enough exercise, or take personal responsibility for their own health.

Omron’s Ranndy Kellogg, VP Marketing, implored marketers to keep it simple and rewarding for the user to encourage ongoing use. Dr. Oz echoed his sentiments: “Personal responsibility will trump personal health,” Oz said. “We need fun, playful ways to nudge people during key moments in a contextually sensitive way” to keep people engaged in their health.

As social media is nearly ubiquitous across all demographics, the inclusion of conversation tools in measuring and monitoring devices and processes can provide added incentive and support for those needing prodding to be more responsible for their own health. Social can provide channels for conversation and feedback that can relay encouragement, support and, when necessary, a poke in the side.

The power of personal responsibility combined with social engagement and easy-to-use health monitoring devices is a win for all. The future is bright for Digital Health with new tools that erase complication and encourage use via social sharing and input.

#CES2013 Photo credit: @Photo

*Omron is an Edelman client.

FDA Talks Social with Off-Label Guidelines

As 2011 came to a close, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration released draft guidance on responding to unsolicited requests for off-label information, which included guidance on how to respond to requests made online. The draft guidance reiterates past guidance and compels pharmaceutical and medical device companies to adhere to existing federal regulations governing how the companies handle off-label communications. As marketers, we must understand the ramifications of this latest draft guidance, and be clear about what it is and is not addressing. Some key points to be aware of:

  1. The guidance issued does not change or otherwise impact regulations. Guidance may assist us in better understanding regulations and their intent, but this is very black-and-white. Ask your nearest and friendly pharma/medical device attorney, guidance is not regulation.
  2. The document has been called by many “draft social media guidance” – it is not and does little to address greater social media use. While it does recommend how social media should be used in an off-label context, the overwhelming majority of pharma/medical device companies engaging in social media already adhere to or go beyond the guidance as it’s put forth (i.e., follow regulations).
  3. Pharma/medical device companies already have systems in place to deal with requests for information on off-label uses of approved products. This guidance won’t change that. If anything, it should reinforce for us that social media can be used in the context of existing systems as long as we adhere to federal regulations.
  4. Extrapolating this guidance to additional uses of social media in the pharma and medical device industries should be done with the greatest care. The guidance is not a free pass. It’s a solid reinforcement of past FDA direction related to off-label communications, but it does not address deeper on-label communications via social media.
  5. Companies must continue to be vigilant with regard to any communications that discuss off-label uses of approved products. There remains the need to exclude any promotion of off-label uses from all communications on behalf of pharma and medical device companies. This has not changed.

One of the key take-aways for pharmaceutical and medical device companies engaging in social media, this draft guidance underscores the need for diligent monitoring and management of all social channels. Whether by internal resources or via agency partners, a monitoring and management program tied into a company’s already existing quality and customer response programs can mitigate issues before they arise. While the intent of this guidance may be debated for some time to come, when it comes to content related to social media within the draft guidance, the FDA is clear in its language:

“This draft guidance provides FDA’s recommendations to firms wishing to respond to unsolicited requests for off-label information, including both requests made directly and privately to firms and requests made in public forums, including through emerging electronic media.”

The mention of “emerging electronic media” (EEM) does give the feel of social media guidance if we equate Twitter, Facebook YouTube and the like as EEM. But the key phrase in the sentence is in the subject: these are recommendations for companies wishing to respond to unsolicited requests for off-label information. All channels are covered: direct contact (most likely by sales representatives in the field), and other channels (electronic media included) covered by labeling and advertising regulations. The draft guidance is one of the first from FDA to acknowledge the use of EEM as a means to respond to inquiries. Along with this acknowledgement, the most salient concern mentioned in the FDA document is the ability for information to be “broadcast” via online means, rather than in the recommended one-to-one communication outlined by the agency:

“…Because product information posted on websites and other public electronic forums is likely to be available to a broad audience and for an indefinite period of time, FDA is concerned that firms may post detailed public online responses to questions about off-label uses of their products in such a way that they are communicating unapproved or uncleared use information about FDA-regulated medical products to individuals who have not requested such information. In this circumstance, communications to persons who have not requested information may promote a product for a use or condition for which FDA has not approved or cleared. FDA is also concerned about the enduring nature of detailed public online responses to off-label questions because specific drug or device information may become outdated (e.g., new risk information may become available).”

Common sense and continued adherence to federal regulations are key when determining why, how and when companies respond to requests for information on off-label uses of approved products. Social media can and should be a part of the communications mix. However, true guidance comes from understanding existing regulations.

Gigi PeterkinShwen

Image credit: JFCherry

Health Digital Check-Up: Social Health 2011

This week’s Check-up comes from David Barton, Jill Munson and Jamie Carracher who attended the Social Health 2011 conference.

Colleagues from the NY Health, SF Corporate, and DC Health groups recently attended the Social Health 2011 conference (SXSH) or as it’s also called, the “Social Health Summit.”

Founded and organized in part by Edelman’s Shwen Gwee, the conference is an international social health un-conference designed to bring together individuals from across the health care industry – patients, professionals, payers, providers, drug manufacturers and government. According to the organizers, “While each of these various health care verticals often meet and speak within each vertical on a regular basis, there are very few occasions when the entire spectrum of health care meets to speak across the verticals.” SXSH seeks to solve this issue by engaging individuals across the entire health care industry to share and solve problems together, instead of “pushing the bottleneck” to a different vertical in the spectrum; with the ultimate goal of driving better outcomes for patients.

The day-long conference featured presentations on topics such as unleashing the power of data, health technologies and innovation; social media use by hospitals; health care’s use of social media; and the intersection of workplace wellness and public health, among many others. Additionally, the conference served as the launch of IsMyCancerDifferent.com [Edelman client], an online movement created to educate people about a personalized diagnostic tool available for a range of cancers whose manifestations vary widely from person to person.

The day was divided into a series of pre-planned keynote presentations, as well as a series of more interactive “un-conference” breakout sessions, where topics were decided by the participants and provided attendees the opportunity to dive deep into select topics in a small group setting.

This week’s Check-up highlights key insights and takeaways from the conference. You can also check out the Twitter conversation (live tweet archive) for a more in-depth look at the discussion that took place throughout the day.

Data Liberación

Todd Park, Chief Technology Officer at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), kicked off the conference with a presentation similar to his talk earlier this year at South by Southwest. Focusing on unleashing the power of data, IT and innovation to improve health, Todd’s presentation outlined three trends in the health industry:

  • New incentives to innovate in health care
  • Information Liberación! (as Todd calls it)
  • Increasing market transparency

Combined, these three trends result in the perfect equation for an innovator at the intersection of health and IT: “new incentives + information liberation = rocket fuel for innovation.” One of the most recognizable outcomes of these trends is the Health Data Initiative, which uses the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) as a model for “liberating” HHS-owned health data. However, with all the innovation around this newly released data it is important to remember that health literacy is still a key component. Innovation challenges such as the Health 2.0 Developer Challenge are looking to solve this problem by facilitating the transformation of complex spreadsheets into useful data. Some great examples that have come about as a result of this “data liquidity” include the VA’s Blue Button Program, iTriage, Asthmapolis, and more.

Additionally, with the shift from pills and devices to services and digital applications, problem solvers in health care, life sciences, pharma and biotech have to re-think its end products. Todd stated that he’s never been “more optimistic about health data innovation to help advance the future of health care… we can’t wait for the government to do this… the public is much smarter and better at translating data into practical insights and tools for the consumer.”

Addressing this data issue is essential – what’s the point of releasing all this data unless people actually understand what they are getting?

State of Social Media

How much activity does Facebook see in one month? According to Melissa Davies, Social Media Market Researcher at NM Incite, Facebook receives roughly 53 billion minutes of face time per month. And why does this matter? Because, Davies emphasized, the personal experience remains the currency of online conversations around health care. NM Incite found that in the online space, conditions with the highest prevalence are not always the most discussed online. In fact, check out this infographic illustrating how conditions with lower prevalence often generate higher online engagement as patients are usually very active and vocal online.

Additionally, Meredith Ressi, President of Manhattan Research presented data about how younger consumers are more inclined to look on the Internet for health information instead of calling a doctor, whereas older generations tend to pick up the phone first. Breaking the data down by gender, Ressi stated that the Internet influences the health decisions and behaviors of men more than women. (Compare this to asking for directions – men don’t want to visit the doctor and would rather just figure it out on their own). Ressi also talked about the rapidly increasing trend of health information consumption via mobile platforms and how the majority of that activity is driven by mobile search; serving as a reminder that we need to continue to focus on mobile optimization and not simply think mobile apps is the only solution for that platform.

Growing trend: DIY Health

During her afternoon remarks, Jane-Sarasahn Kahn described a fascinating health trend: do-it-yourself (DIY) health. As our economy continues to struggle, consumers are looking for ways to save money and extend their spending dollars, whether it is fixing their home on their own or improving their health. In the health space, this is leading many people to save costs by avoiding doctor visits, splitting pills and self-treating their conditions.

DIY health has also led to opportunities for health organizations and entrepreneurs, including app developers who are creating mobile health tools for patients and hospitals that are finding new ways to engage patients, such as the Mayo Clinic, which opened a space in the Mall of America in Minnesota. Similarly, patients are looking for new ways to engage and take charge of their own health care, including demanding more access to their personal information and online access to their doctors. You can read more about Jane’s thoughts on her blog.

Health Barometer

Following the launch of the Edelman Health Barometer 2011 (#EHB2011) at Mashable‘s Social Good Summit, Shwen Gwee provided attendees at the Social Health Summit with a brief preview of the health engagement data. The results of the global survey showcase the technology and sources that people use to not only make health decisions, but also to manage their health. The (global) results naturally segmented into five distinct groups along the spectrum of digital engagement in health – Actionists (21%), Followers (24%), Participants (35%), Traditionalists (7%) and Offliners (23%). For more information about the global #EHB2011 results and more on these five segments, visit the Health Barometer website.


The way that people interact with health is changing rapidly. Everything from definitions of health, to sources of health information, to health data access are evolving – much of it being driven by digital technologies, the Internet, and social media. For an in-depth summary of the day’s content/discussions, please read Shwen Gwee’s “6 P’s of Social Health” blog post, which was featured on the Social Media Club’s blog. Also, visit SXSH.org to learn more about Social Health and view an archive of coverage from the event.

Image credit: surroundsound5000

Health Digital Check-Up: Infographics and Health/Science Visualizations

In his new book, James Gleick writes that, “We have information fatigue, anxiety, and glut.” One could say the same things about content and data – we are bombarded daily by the two, with barely a reprieve at home. We are expected to comprehend ever larger amounts of content and data while our brains stay the same size. Overload is a real possibility for some.

Thankfully, science and health communicators have embraced visual storytelling as a way to convey ideas (even complex ones) quickly and cleanly to a variety of audiences. The development of visual assets such as infographics and animations helps clients to present a unified story and message across the spheres of the media cloverleaf.

Following are some of the most common visual solutions in the science and health space.


As visual representations of information, data, or knowledge, infographics use a combination of illustration, text, and graphic elements to quickly and clearly explain complex information. By arranging information in layers and according to multiple variables, the infographic can present a large amount of information in a manner that is easy to digest and allows for visual connections to be made. Infographics can also be adapted across a variety of media, increasing the value proposition of each graphic.

  • Static infographics, like this one from GOOD, present a proscribed story for the viewer to explore. The story unfolds in a directed manner for the viewer to discover, piece by piece. In this case, a viewer can compare the scales of historic disease outbreaks in one place.
  • Interactive infographics, like this one from the NYT, allow the user to control certain aspects of the graphic. This allows for deeper digging into relevant pieces of the story. In this case, a user interested in supercomputers located in Europe can explore that section of the infographic in detail.
Data Visualizations

Taking complex and large amounts of data and turning them into eye-catching yet tidy data visualizations is not easy. But with the right visual storytelling tools and an interesting dataset, visualizations engage viewers, allowing them to make unseen connections and to establish patterns otherwise invisible to the viewer.

  • Using publicly available data, Derek Watkins created this visualization, which tracks post office expansion in the United States over time. In addition to a great, visual way to see how the United States population expanded over time, other patterns emerge, including lack of activity in the South during the Civil War and the first offices opening on the west coast in 1848.

A key tool for visualization specialists, animations can provide a larger context for a health or science story. For example, an animation can quickly show the numerous processes and cellular mechanisms that contribute to osteoporosis, which can lead to a conversation about drugs that treat the disease. Animations have proven especially popular for use by pharmaceutical companies.

  • Pre-launch: While pre-launch settings are restricted, mechanism of action (MOA) animation can be a novel addition to presentations at advisory boards or to venture capital pitches.
  • Launch: Around the launch of a pharmaceutical, MOA animation can help reinforce a company’s leadership in certain therapeutic categories. It can also highlight points of differentiation from competitor drugs. As usual, care must be taken to avoid off-label claims.
  • Post-launch: An aging drug may be reformulated for extended release or a new route of administration, offering an opportunity to visualize the new delivery mechanism and to highlight its value.

What examples of visual data have you seen?

Health Digital Check-Up: Health Comes Back to SXSW

Is it that time of the year already!?

It was just a few short months ago that more than forty Edelman team members returned from South by Southwest (SXSW) Interactive 2011 where they had the opportunity to meet, listen, and present to everyone from fellow public relations professionals and advertisers to gamers, developers, psychologists and user-interface designers.

Specific to health, members of the Edelman Digital health community interacted with physicians, hospital administrators, patients and marketers, and provided their thoughts on key learnings and trends coming out of the conference. Edelman also sponsored the “Social Health Kickoff” reception on the first day and brought together a panel of experts on “Health: Is There Really an App for That?” which had people lining outside the door to get in.

While SXSW 2012 may still seem a ways away, the voting process for next year’s panels has already begun and numerous Edelman digital health members have submitted their proposals via the SXSW PanelPicker for consideration.

As part of eleven panel submissions from Edelman, health will be front and center in three panels organized by Emily Hackel, Gigi Peterkin and Shwen Gwee.

You can also learn more about all of Edelman’s proposed panels by checking out the SXSW PanelPicker. Please note that voting ends on Friday, September 2nd so take a look and select your favorites.

This Health Digital Check-up contains some of the team’s top insights and programmatic considerations.

How STDs Can Be Good For Your Health

Moderator: Emily Hackel Panelists: Deven McGraw, Mark Dredze, Anmol Madan and David Hale

We’ll let you in on a secret: Socially Transmitted Data (STDs) are good for your health. Updating Twitter, searching for information on Google, texting your friends, and carrying your mobile phone – these activities may hold the key to preventing your next cold or knowing when flu will be keeping the kids at home so you can get them Echinacea and call the sitter in time. In this panel, we’ll discuss how the data you leave in your wake, every day, holds within it vast opportunity to predict and even improve personal and public health; and we’ll delve into some of the latest research and tools that are helping uncover what’s possible.

Designing Positive Daily Addictions

Moderator: Gigi Peterkin Panelists: David Rose, Raja Rajamannar, Christine Robbins and Kendra Markle

There’s no secret behind what makes for healthy living. Don’t smoke, eat right, and get some exercise to start. The problem is, being healthy feels a lot like work. So our core question: How can we make healthy behavior as seductive as a kiss or as addicting as a bag of potato chips? Once you go in for one, you can’t stop. This panel will shed light on what’s working – and what’s not – when it comes to using interactive tools to turn good health habits into actions people crave.

Socially Regulated: We’ve Got Your Regs Right Here

Moderator: Shwen Gwee Panelists: Shannon Paul and Marc Monseau

Following on the success of the 2011 “Socially Regulated” session, three pioneers of social media return to SXSW to discuss issues surrounding the execution of social media programs in regulated industries. If you work in a highly conservative corporate culture or if you’re asking yourself whether it’s possible for YOUR regulated company to participate in social media with the ever-changing and rapid emergence of new tools/services (e.g. Google+), as well as new rules (e.g. Facebook “open commenting”) on social media platforms, then this panel is for you!

On the Pulse of Emerging Health

Whether you plan on attending SXSW 2012 or not, the PanelPicker showcases what some of the most innovative minds and key influencers in the digital and health spaces are talking about. With attendees ranging from gamers and developers to physicians and hospital administrators, SXSW offers a window to emerging trends and news coming out of the conference is a key source to help stay knowledgeable about new and emerging opportunities.

Health Digital Check-Up: The Rise and Fall of Google Health

Google Health launched in May 2008 on the heels of a successful two-month pilot at Cleveland Clinic and was received with optimism. As an Electronic/Personal Health Record (PHR) product, Google Health was developed to allow consumers the ability to manage their personal health information electronically – giving them greater insight into information that was previously stored in disparate clinic or physician records. As is common in the tech space, expectations for the service were high from the start despite numerous roadblocks that Google would have to overcome.

Flash forward three years… Google recently announced that they would discontinue the Google Health service as of January 1, 2012 citing low adoption and difficulty attracting industry partners. This week’s Health Digital Check-up will analyze why Google Health was unable to live up to its expectations, key learnings and the path forward.

Awareness & Adoption

If you ask 10 of your closest friends what they think about Google Health shutting down, chances are most of them would tell you they weren’t aware of the product to begin with. When Google Health launched in May 2008, there was only a small segment of the population that was interested in adopting digital tools to manage their health and that hasn’t changed much over the past three years. As Missy Kramer, former founding member of Google Health and Senior Advisor to David Brailer, National Coordinator for Health IT, Office of the National Coordinator, writes on The Health Care Blog, “In their current form, PHRs strive to do too much and as a result do not have enough functionality to appeal to a broad array of users.” Tracking and sharing data via personal health tools remains popular amongst pockets of high-engaged patients and caregivers, and while these numbers are growing, they are not yet mainstream activities.

Lack of Connectivity

Connectivity is a common problem when it comes to digital health initiatives at every level, whether we’re talking about a universal health record for an entire jurisdiction or the ability to move your personal health information from one physician to another. In the case of Google Health, there weren’t enough third-party sources allowing patient data to be imported to Google Health, with the exception of a handful of big name providers. In addition, the extra step of having to add your own data to the system (instead of being automated), plus the need to interpret your health information (think about the mix of medical terms and physician written notes for the lay person), probably added to the challenge and reduced the motivation for patients to update their profiles. Although Google did include the ability to import information from consumer health devices toward the end of its lifespan, this data often did not make sense to the general consumer; even when it is further interpreted by the system, it may still be somewhat meaningless without guidance from a health care professional. The prevalence of “beyond the app” meaningful holistic devices such as Fitbit and BodyMedia is what Google Health lacked – fun, convenient ways to visualize health.

Lack of Meaning

Frog Design’s Healthcare group hit the nail on the head on their blog when noting that, for the patient, healthcare is a narrative – not a bunch of lab results, CAT-scans and tests. Although Google Health enabled users to store and access health data in one convenient location, it didn’t provide meaningful feedback that helped users navigate the complexity of health data. Tools like Philips DirectLife have got it right: being able to access your health information doesn’t provide much value if you aren’t sure how to action the data.

The Way Forward

Even though Google Health has closed its book, during its time it was truly innovative and broke new ground. In an article on ReadWriteWeb.com, Edelman’s Shwen Gwee states, “Early adopters were interested in using Google Health, but it took too long to move. I wonder what would happen if they launched it now, with everything that’s coming out around open and standardized data. I wish they would donate the platform, open source it, issue a challenge or something, and see what others could do with it.” To use the Gartner Hype Cycle as a reference: today, we are in the “Trough of Disillusionment,” where technology fails to meet expectations and is abandoned. As we learn from our mistakes, some businesses will persist and continue through the “Slope of Enlightenment” and experiment to understand the true benefits and practical application of the technology for the consumer. Whether Google Health was ahead of its time or not could probably be argued either way. However, Google certainly had the right approach towards empowering consumers to take charge and engage in their own health, which ultimately could have the potential to reduce adverse events from drug interactions and encourage positive changes in personal health. Unfortunately, despite having the reach and the platform, Google hadn’t quite figured out how to integrate seamlessly into the lives of everyday consumers, which likely contributed to slow adoption of the platform and the decision to pull the plug.

Image credit: Fotos GOVBA

Health Digital Check-Up:Medical Meetings Go Social

Live tweeting from an event has become common practice throughout nearly every industry with some larger events generating as many as 10,000 – 15,000 tweets. Applied to the health space, this is clearly evident in medical meetings where the use of social media and digital elements are becoming more and more commonplace. Aside from individuals live tweeting events, many meetings now have their own Twitter accounts, tweeting out official conference news, relevant information and serving as a personalized conference micro-blogging tool.

As Cathy Arnst recently noted in her weekly email, “Arnst’s Angst,” the “reporting-by-twitter movement is already part of the information landscape, and proves once again the importance of instant communication, and instant interaction, to the creation of news.”

As Twitter and social media continue to shape the health communications space and more specifically medical meetings, it will be easier for individuals to remotely “attend” industry events and follow breaking news coming out of conferences with the click of a mouse.

Referencing this year’s American Society of Clinical Oncology Annual Meeting (ASCO), Cathy cited how it was “much easier to keep up with ASCO this year by following the news on Twitter than searching for it in the newspapers or online.”

This Health Digital Check-up contains some of the team’s top insights and programmatic considerations.

Through The Eyes of Twitter

The use of social media extends the conversation around medical meetings both before and after the event, with the conversation often beginning weeks in advance. What was once a couple days of traditional coverage now starts online with the release of abstracts and continues through the meeting with commentary from individuals sharing what they find interesting. As a clear example of how the use of Twitter is impacting medical meetings, the National Cancer Institute (NCI) issued an NCI Cancer Bulletin concerning the use of social media at this year’s ASCO Annual Meeting. Worth the read, the bulletin gives an overview of the pros and cons of using Twitter at medical meetings and the unique view this medium provides. How can you join the social media conversation to build momentum behind data leading up to a meeting?


One way to generate buzz online is through a personalized Twitter account such as Roche’s @CongressConnect. Launched earlier this year, @CongressConnect is a Twitter feed that, according to the company, is the “official Roche Twitter site for congresses.” Through the Twitter feed, Roche’s communications team tweets out general and company-centric information from select medical meetings, providing followers with information about the events unfolding as well as Roche’s abstracts and presentations. This is an innovative and clever way for Roche to provide followers with instant access to its data and further publicize relevant posters and abstracts through a social media presence. Additionally, Roche links to its social media guidelines which provide an outline of its various online properties.


Hashtags are an essential part of all tweets coming out of medical meetings and panels often have personalized hashtags to allow attendees to easily follow the online conversation generated during a presentation. Using programs such as TweetChat, in-person attendees or those attending remotely can quickly find tweets related to a specific panel and easily follow along with the conversation. For example, sticking with the ASCO example from earlier, this year’s conference hashtag was #ASCO11 – helping attendees, media and anyone interested easily locate and follow news coming out of the conference.

A Work in Progress

According to Jody Schoger, a writer who blogs and tweets about cancer, tweets during meetings are often a mishmash of messages with attendees offering their individualistic view on what’s interesting. Due to the 140-character limit, heavily scientific information is often shortened, leading to the exclusion of key details and explanations. This has resulted in reluctance on behalf of some conferences and presenters to have their information tweeted out due to possible inaccuracies. In hoping to curb inaccurate information, the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) has taken a first step by publishing social media guidelines for its conferences which outline appropriate use for attendees. Despite these guidelines, it is clear that live tweeting during medical meetings is still an ongoing work in progress as conference organizers search for a healthy balance between instantaneous content creation and oversharing. However, as Bryan Vartabedian, MD writes on 33charts.com, policies to restrict Twitter use illustrate “the disconnect between the past and the present” and “ignore the obvious reality that we are the media. Communication tools like phones have become tools for publication.”

Health Digital Check-Up: Washington, DC Health Innovation Week

Last week marked Washington, DC Health Innovation Week (#dchealth), featuring events attended by individuals from inside and outside the health industry, including entrepreneurs, technologists, doctors and government officials.

Activities for the week included HealthCampDC, an un-conference about “Vitality Through Data,” the Health 2.0 developer challenge code-a-thon, and the Healthcare Innovation Summit, designed to bring together leaders in the health and information technology spaces to address the challenges and opportunities to improving healthcare through innovation.

The week’s main event was the second annual Health Data Initiative Forum (#healthapps), hosted by the Institute of Medicine (IOM) and Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). The Forum sought to encourage the development of apps that use government data sets to help people and communities make more informed health decisions. The Forum showcased 45 winning health IT applications (PDF) developed with HHS’ newly-available data and an exposition where participants could identify opportunities to expand upon current efforts.

Several Edelman colleagues were in attendance covering the events live in DC or attended screenings at satellite meet-ups. Tweets from some of these individuals were aggregated on EdelmanDigital.com.

Coming out of Health Innovation Week, here are some of the team’s thoughts.

View from the Top

At the Health Data Initiative (HDI) Forum, HHS “rockstar,” Todd Park, CTO at HHS, took the stage to talk about how open health data and innovation can improve America’s health. He stated that the goal is a self-propelled open ecosystem of data that improves health and fuels an arsenal of innovators. He also presented some of the new HHS data information websites that make data more accessible by making them machine-readable, downloadable, accessible via application programming interfaces (APIs), free, and vastly easier to find – the websites include: the HealthData.gov community, the Health Indicators Warehouse and HealthCare.gov.

In The Works Already

Many individuals and organizations are already benefiting from this open source data through websites such as PatientsLikeMe.com, which is expanding its role in clinical trial recruitment through a new feature helping to match patients with relevant clinical trials. During the Forum, one technology that sparked a lot of attention was Ozioma, which pulls data from more than 65 sources to provide health media professionals and journalists with fast access to local health data and information. Additionally, Ozioma produces content from data searches in sentence format that can be dropped directly into a pitch or story, providing a local story angle within a matter of minutes.

Up for a Challenge?

Throughout the day at the HDI Forum, there were no less than six major announcements made relating to application development challenges, with an aim to “accelerate and promote the use of open government data and to spark innovation in the healthcare community.” For example, the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT (ONC) announced the Investing in Innovations (i2) Initiative to promote innovation in health IT and the NCI set forth a challenge for developers to use public data to create applications that integrate new technologies into existing platforms that advance cancer prevention and control. To get the i2 Initiative started, Health 2.0 and Capital Consulting Corporation were awarded nearly $5 million to fund projects supporting innovation. Additionally, Sanofi-Aventis (client) unveiled its innovation challenge: Data, Design, Diabetes. The challenge hopes to combat the diabetes epidemic by using open data to create informed diabetes solutions with the winner getting $100,000 and workspace at the Rock Health incubator in San Francisco.

Looking Ahead

Washington, DC Health Innovation Week was full of major announcements aiming to further spur innovation. At the close of the Forum, US Chief Technology Officer Aneesh Chopra and OrganizedWisdom announced StartUp Health, a strategic initiative designed to inspire, educate and provide resources for entrepreneurs to build sustainable health and wellness companies. To kick-off the initiative, StartUp Health will be hosting a series of roundtable discussions bringing entrepreneurs, investors and organizations together to help develop a roadmap leading from innovation to sustainable business. StartUp America CEO Scott Case will be co-hosting the discussions which roll-out in NYC starting in July. The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation alluded to the future of open source data on its blog, asking, “Where are the apps that will crawl across the different data stores and pull it all together?” Perhaps StartUpHealth (or you?) can get us there.

The Future of Healthcare

At the end of the day/week, it was very apparent that there is a surge (or maybe even a tsunami) of healthcare innovation being driven by the government – an organization that one doesn’t typically associate with the words: “innovative,” “quick,” or “open.” However, with smart people in place – like Todd Park and Aneesh Chopra – who have taken their experience and entrepreneurial thinking from the private sector, combined with key partnerships with innovators like Tim O’Reilly and the Health 2.0 organization, amazing things can happen.

By recognizing the need to open (anonymized) government data to the general public and attract innovators and creative thinkers to work on health-related issues, they have created a framework for “leap-frogging” healthcare innovation and driven the interest for such advancements to a level which is usually reserved for tech/web2.0 startups and entrepreneurs. Let’s hope we can see such innovative thinking happen in other (private) sectors of healthcare as well.


Image credit: taedc

Disclosure: Health Innovation Week sponsor, Kaiser Permanente is an Edelman client.

Health Digital Check-Up: Health Activists Ask for Company Involvement in Social Media

This just in… we’re still waiting for guidance from the FDA on social media. Actually, we AREN’T waiting. We can’t afford to wait. The fact is, the social media train has left the station, and we at Edelman have been actively working with our clients in the regulated space to help them navigate the medium without official guidance.

To add more fuel to the fire, WEGO Health has updated their original survey of their Health Activists (PDF) – presented at the November 2009 open hearing the FDA held – and their data supports the need for company participation and involvement online more than ever.

Similar to the recent Pew report on “The Social Life of Health Information, 2011,” when taking a look at both WEGO surveys you can see how the landscape has evolved since 2009 as well as trends and opinions that are emerging within the health space.

About WEGO

For those of you unfamiliar with WEGO, WEGO Health is a social media company with a mission of empowering the top 10% of online health social media contributors to connect with each other and with health care companies. They call these passionate people Health Activists, and you can find them as community leaders, bloggers, on Facebook, on Twitter, and leading online forums. On average, they create content for an audience of 15,000+ every month. WEGO Health funds their supportive community for these Health Activists through transparent advertising and sponsorships from health companies.

Bring in the Experts

A strong majority of Health Activists continue to seek the expertise that companies can bring to social media conversations. Health Activists overwhelmingly prefer a commitment to objectivity, but when it comes to products and services, they know the manufacturers are the experts. One WEGO Health Activist states it best by saying, “I kind of see (company participation) as a little biased, but I do like it when you have a forum going on – and actual drug facts, what it’s used for, what the side effects are – when a company brings that into the picture, that’s excellent…” Health Activists clearly want companies to become involved in social media with only 3% of Activists not wanting any company involvement in the social space.

It’s a Start

When asked if health care companies are using social media, more Health Activists replied “yes” this year compared to 2009 – 69% and 58%, respectively. Health Activists are seeing growth in company participation mostly from increased use of Facebook and Twitter, with early signs of growth in Q&A sites and photo sharing. But they also acknowledge that companies are over-regulating themselves – to the point where many are simply not getting involved – in the absence of FDA guidance.


In 2008, the FDA sent letters to 14 pharmaceutical companies regarding their branded search engine advertisements, changing the assumption held until then about linking to important safety information. In the letters, the FDA asserted that the violating ads did not accurately link a branded drug’s efficacy claims with its risk information. The Health Activists at WEGO disagree – a clear majority agree that the best way for companies to make required information available is having it one click away.

Combating Misinformation

Health Activists need companies’ help fighting misinformation. As evident in both the 2009 and 2011 surveys, they realize that companies, as the only regulated players, can provide factual, much needed information on their products and help to clear up many of the misconceptions present in social media. Health Activists also expect that companies will be vigilant brand stewards and monitor conversations across the Internet to counter inaccurate information about their products, although they recognize the inherent challenges – more than half (56%) of the individuals surveyed agree that companies cannot reasonably keep up with monitoring all mentions of their content. Here, the Health Activists join companies in waiting (and hoping) for the FDA to provide guidance to define “best effort” for monitoring.


Image credit: WEGO Health

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