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  • Disney Wins the Metaverse

    Disney has already won the metaverse. While VCs make their bets on metaverse maybes and headlines continue to argue over hyperbolic claims, Disney patented a technology that facilitates a hands free, augmented reality experience for theme park visitors. Leaning into their imagineering magic, Disney’s take on the metaverse will likely prove victorious, and will perhaps even pave the way for consumer acceptance and mass adoption. As Disney’s CEO Bob Chapek put it, “We’ll be able to connect the physical and digital worlds even more closely, allowing for storytelling, without boundaries in our own Disney Metaverse” With their storytelling capacity, creative technology and supreme fan cultivation, Disney’s flywheel will naturally progress from multi-channel storytelling experience to immersive storytelling phenomenon — powered by fearless fans and beloved IP. “Audiences have an unending desire for ‘more’ of the stories they already love,” metaverse maven Matthew Ball writes. Disney’s fans will always want more opportunities to be a part of their favorite stories. By initiating their virtual experience through the theme park, fans will see the metaverse as a continuation of their favorite IP and opportunity to create. Rather than being forced fed the metaverse from tech oligarchs, Disney’s metaverse uses its storytelling and audience love to make the metaverse a natural next step in consumer driven experiences. Would most parents let their 6 years old spend the day with Moana in the Disney-created, parent-approved, metaverse? Or what about a mother and daughter practicing their lightsaber skills at home, while dueling Rey and Obi-wan avatars? How about continuing your Jungle Cruise adventure in the car ride home from Disneyland with your personal XR enabled toy? Disney’s storytelling flywheel will outlast any technological innovation or consumer adoption headache. As long as Disney keeps cultivating imagination and love, there’s nothing they can’t do.

  • One Day Your Pain Will Be Useful To You

    Every so often I receive a message from a stranger asking if we can connect. They’re not looking to sell me their services or add me to their email list. They want to know if my life is livable — or more importantly, “how did I get to where I am?” As a rape survivor-activist, my pain has been made public for spectacle, political warfare and cultural discourse. With it comes a certain layer of permeance, where people feel comfortable reaching out to me for comments or advice. My pain is a calling card for those who are desperate to navigate a life post violence and I try to respond to each appropriate request with care. Often, the strangers who reach out to me are the family of survivors. Their loved ones — who were once brimming with hope and possibility — struggle to live in a world that has already violated them. These strangers ask me: “Are you happy?” “How long did it take to heal?” “What do I do to support my loved one?” I don’t have straightforward answers. But I often share my story of healing, trying to show the nuances of life after rape and how I reclaimed my story and pain to build a life that I can call my own. 2022 will be the 10 year mark of when I was raped by my classmate. I spent the last 10 years trying to piece my life back together and make sense out of the meaningless of violence. Along the way, I have found love, community and purpose, but the healing isn’t over and I don’t think it ever will be. All I do know for sure, is that we don’t spend enough time sharing the stories of our healing. The journey after the trauma. The continued ugliness we must face after being dehumanized to the point of certain death. I have been more fortunate than most, having had access to quality healthcare and healing resources, a support network that provided me with a safe landing while I tried, over and over again, to make a life for myself. For the last 5 years, I have made a conscious effort to untangle myself from my work in survivorship, but the more I tried to separate myself from my past, the more I lost my connection to the world. Denying my pain was also denying my humanity. Often I tell strangers that there is hope. The world is changing. Not fast enough, but in the last 10 years, I have seen the rise of survivor activism, the #MeToo movement, policy changes that support survivors and a culture of accountability and respect starting to emerge in more and more places. And even more so, I took what nearly destroyed me –interpersonal and institutional violence — and used it as the pillars for my personal and professional life. Some of these pillars I hope to explore further in later writing, but for now here are the core tenets of my journey thus far. Healthy Relationships After I was raped by my classmate, I thought I would never trust another human being. But through the hard work of EMDR therapy and the kindness of a close few, I was able to trust people and even myself. My greatest source of joy is the healthy relationships in my life that I have now and I know what’s possible when we continuously strive for healthy, authentic relationships with one another. There’s nothing quite as powerful as a healthy relationship and I am encouraged by the great shift in our culture to focusing on cultivating healthy relationships — both personally and professionally. Bodily Integrity After I was raped, my body did not belong to me. Instead, my body was a prisoner of the violence. Often disassociated, I had limited ability to comprehend what was needed of me and my body. It was only when I found the right language and trauma informed care did I reconnect with my physical form. Navigating healthcare post rape gave me the insight into the importance of bodily integrity– the right to self determination and autonomy over our own bodies. Bodily integrity is my North Star, guiding my work in healthcare and entertainment as I seek for everyone to be empowered when it comes to their own minds and bodies. Storytelling The survivor rights movement is a lesson in storytelling. Who’s telling the story? The victim or the victor? Often victims of sexual violence are nameless statistics, but that story changed the moment we came forward, using our voices to recenter the narrative on what happened to us. Storytelling was the vehicle we used to push for behavior, cultural and policy change. It continues to be the method I use for my work as I scale healing through entertainment. Ultimately, when strangers connect with me and ask me about my life post rape, I don’t linger on the details of the violence or what it’s like being a part of the media circus. Rather I always come back to the journey of healing. Each journey is unique. It will not be linear or easy, but it is possible. I’ve often wished there was a way we could inoculate ourselves against violence, but the truth is we can’t. We can however strengthen our healing abilities, supporting ourselves and loved ones as we wade through the pain and suffering. As this year begins, I re-dedicate myself to my own healing journey, knowing I cannot help others unless I remain committed to my own healing as well.

  • The Three Ways We Experience Healthcare

    Navigating healthcare is not for the faint of heart: it can range from tedious to downright devastating, yet we’re witnessing an unprecedented evolution of consumer healthcare. As we gain more power in our decision making, the healthcare experience becomes less treacherous.But we still have a long way to go. Before we can transform healthcare into something that we all look forward to, we must identify the ways we currently experience healthcare Here are three ways we, as healthcare users, experience healthcare: PATIENT We’ve all been healthcare patients. Be it sitting on an exam table while a white coat pokes and prods us, or trying to decipher the meaning of numbers on a monitor, or failing to understand the medical jargon of a treatment plan -- being a patient is a universal experience for all of us at some point. Overwhelmed, objectified and powerless, we experience healthcare much like we would experience a foreign country -- we struggle to navigate a new language and culture, without the benefit of a translator or guidebook. Patients experience healthcare through data. Words are exchanged, numbers are shared but it doesn't feel relevant to our lives. It doesn’t make sense. The data is presented to us but it lacks context and applicability -- what does it mean for me? It’s as though a doctor gives you a piece of paper with instructions in a foreign language and expects us to make meaningful choices with limited to no understanding. Data is essential to healthcare. It’s the raw material that health providers need to make decisions, but it means nothing for patients who haven’t spent years studying and training to understand what those values mean. For patients, healthcare is a data driven experience with no context or comprehension. It’s a strange country with no map, translator or guide. CONSUMER Unlike being dropped in a foreign country with no guidance, health consumers are a lot like tourists -- we’ve got some idea of what we want, need and where we’re going. In today’s consumer driven healthcare experience, consumers have better decision making power thanks to health information and content that makes the foreign world of health more accessible. Consumers experience healthcare through information and content. Like a tourist in a foreign country, healthcare consumers use information and content to navigate their surroundings. What was once incomprehensible data has now been given some context and direction. Those instructions in a foreign language now come with a phrase book and recommendations from other experienced travelers. Yet consumers still experience health as a transactional experience. It’s not as alienating as the patient’s data driven experience but it lacks the more engaging qualities of a relational driven experience -- something that we can see with healthcare fans. FAN Being a healthcare fan is a lot like being a local. You are immersed in the community, your experience driven by knowledge and relationships with others. For healthcare fans, health is a part of their identity. Fans experience healthcare through stories. These are stories from the people who experience health/care daily, sharing their perspective as they navigate better health and the healthcare system. Fans engage in and create their own stories of healthcare. Those instructions in a foreign language are now a personal story that we can remember, relate to and act upon. Rather than being alienated by data or limited to content, stories translated into personal experiences that can become our own. Fans, like locals, are able to translate a foreign language into a repeatable, engaging experience. Health User Experience by Ari Mostov 2021 As more patients become healthcare consumers, we have a unique opportunity to design healthcare experiences that are fan worthy, providing a space for stories to be shared and communities to grow. Fan driven healthcare experiences will inevitably improve health engagement and outcomes, turning the foreign experience of health into something we can all identify with. Rather than being lost in a sea of data or limited by disengaging content, health fans will participate in their health through stories that drive relationships and outcomes.

  • The Future of Healthcare? Entertainment

    The future of healthcare will be fueled by entertainment. And it won’t even be recognizable as “healthcare”. But rather just a part of our daily lives. While health content isn’t new, health entertainment is taking a new approach to stealthily improve our wellbeing as a byproduct of great storytelling. From Akili Interactive’s FDA approved video game to Headspace’s meditation Netflix show, the silos of health, entertainment and technology continue to break down, creating a new narrative for healthcare that meets consumers where they are: on their screens. Beyond “info-tainment” and educational programming, entertainment technologies are advancing to the point where great entertainment improves our health outcomes. Here are three ways entertainment is being leveraged to improve health outcomes: Worthy Wearables As wearable devices become more ubiquitous, health data will become overwhelming and meaningless without some sort of guidance. Communities exist that help members make sense of their data (see fitbit), but even with data visualization, wearables and the data they produce needs to be reconnected to the user’s daily life. Wearables will need to cultivate a storytelling space that helps users understand what’s happening to their bodies. Or transport users into a story world where their wearables play an intrinsic role in their journey. Alter Titan, a fitness RPG (Role Playing Game) that syncs with your wearable, is one of the forthcoming health entertainment experiences that is leaning heavily into storytelling to improve fitness. What’s next: Beyond fitness, we will see entertainment experiences emerge that blend wearables with storytelling, helping users improve their behavior for more complex conditions, like asthma or hypertension. Therapeutic Television Although Calm and Headspace have already given us streamable meditations, we will see TV programs be used to treat conditions. For instance, have you ever been deeply upset and were able to distract yourself, maybe even calm down, by finding an escape-worthy Netflix show? Or if you have young kids, perhaps you put on Bluey to help soothe your child after an unfortunate owie. Yes, I know TV is a great escape, but if TV can be just effective at calming us down as Xanax, then maybe we’re not far off from getting our health insurance to cover our Netflix subscriptions. What’s Next: as TV becomes more immersive, expect to enter your favorite shows and be able to explore them in AR. AR game play has already proven an effective tool to increase physical activity, so why limit it to games and instead let people explore their favorite TV shows. If I can go on a run with Alexis Rose from Schitt’s Creek or fight next to Geralt of Rivia, I wouldn’t consider it exercise. It would be a continuation of my favorite stories. It would be entertainment. Character Driven Healthcare Much like Disney and Phillip’s pediatric MRI collaboration, our favorite entertainment characters will start populating our healthcare experiences. Taking a cue from consumer products, health interventions will start featuring lovable characters and more fan worthy designs, being a part of our favorite story worlds. If we can have Mandolorian toothbrushes, surely we can have glucose monitors that look like they belonged to Bobba Fett. Entertainment licensing will start pushing the boundaries of health devices and care, making health less alienating and a lot more fan worthy. What’s Next: Entertainment companies taking an active role in healthcare. Beyond character licensing, entertainment companies will use their storytelling expertise to improve health engagement and create better health outcomes. Ultimately, the future of healthcare is up for grabs. As technology, policy and culture tries to navigate and solve the complexity of healthcare, it will be entertainment that provides the traction necessary for sustainable change and better health outcomes. Ari Mostov is a health entertainment producer. She is committed to scaling healing and changing behaviors through entertainment. She advises health companies on engagement and narrative while building scalable products that improve outcomes.

  • A New Hope for Healthcare Disruption

    Last week I was delighted to read Rock Health’s report on Healthcare’s Middle Children. Finally, some recognition of companies who could seriously disrupt healthcare, even if they aren’t tech titans and retail rainmakers. If there’s one thing I’ve learned working in healthcare, it’s that we can’t find all our solutions to our problems with the same thinking that led to those problems in the first place. We need to bust the silos of industry and find solutions from unlikely places. So when companies like Comcast, Netflix and Disney dip their toes into healthcare waters, we shouldn’t dismiss their efforts for bandwagon enthusiasm. Instead, we should embrace their boldness as potential breakthroughs that can truly stand on their own. But these disruptors need more than brand loyalty and great product design to navigate healthcare. Here are two ways healthcare disruptors can find their traction: 1. Create A New Health Narrative Healthcare continues to be plagued by complexity, fragmentation, and overall disengagement. While many healthcare companies work to improve their pieces of the puzzle, it’s time to look at the healthcare system from a new perspective. In fact, it’s time for a new healthcare narrative that flips the script on what healthcare can and cannot do. Disruptors from industries like entertainment, telecommunications and e-commerce have the unique advantage of seeing healthcare from a broader perspective: how does health fit into the world of their customer? Rather than forcing users into a healthcare story they have no control of, disruptors have a blank slate to work with, redefining healthcare as a compelling consumer experience and an essential part of daily life. 2. Design for a Social Experience We often forget how social we are as a species. The most disruptive companies can stimulate and/or satiate our social appetites — from movie dates, group chats to CRMs. We are social creatures, and anything we engage with needs to recognize and be a part of the human experience of interacting with others. Disruptors will need to leverage their insights to craft products and experiences that meet us where we are, bringing healthcare to us in our social lives. We’re not too far off from expanding “Netflix & Chill” to “Netflix & Lower Your A1c”. Industries like finance, retail and even end of life planning have become social experiences in today’s digital first world. We need healthcare to be a part of our social landscape, and disruptors will have a unique opportunity to bring their take on social designs for healthcare. Healthcare is ripe for disruption. Yet how do we ensure disruption leads to sustainable transformation and a new healthcare reality? While I have some ideas, my hope is that with new disruptors in healthcare, we will see innovations that aren’t stymied by healthcare’s tiring legacy. Instead, new thinking and designs will find their traction and we can finally have a healthcare experience we can all enjoy.

  • Hollywood Magic for Healthcare

    As an award-winning TV, film and game producer, leaving Hollywood for healthcare may seem like a bizarre choice. Why trade celebrity studded events for CMS reimbursement codes? With no medical degree, and only screen credits to my name, I struggled to embrace my unique background. However, the more time I spent in the healthcare ecosystem, the more I realized that the cure for what ails healthcare is Hollywood Magic. Beyond the complexity of the US healthcare system, I believe that healthcare itself struggles with its story. Fortunately, Hollywood has a history of transforming culture and shifting paradigms through the power of stories. If something needs a new story, look no further than Hollywood. Here are Three Lessons from Hollywood that I frequently share with my healthcare clients when they need to rethink their healthcare story: 1.Character Driven Narrative Too often, disease is the protagonist of the healthcare story. Rather than empowering health seekers on their quest for better health, the healthcare system starts driving the plot, forcing patients into a story they have no control of. How can we expect health seekers to overcome obstacles when we limit them to powerless side characters rather than heroes? By focusing on the main character — the health seeker — rather than just the disease or condition they are living with, healthcare becomes less punitive, more compelling and easier to relate to. Patients aren’t diseases. They are people. Protagonists. Characters. And it’s healthcare’s job to center them as they pursue their quest for better health. 2. User Generated Content (UGC) Healthcare organizations have failed to leverage UGC. Yet millions of people use Instagram, TikTok and YouTube to chronicle their health journeys and find community. From ostomy fashion friendly tips to medication management videos, health seekers are creating their own content, showing the reality of health and healthcare. UGC can demystify the complexities and terrors of healthcare, while also providing space for conversations and communities. Just as UGC is used by Hollywood to nurture fans and remain in dialogue with audiences, Healthcare organizations are missing their chance to meet health seekers where they are and be a part of their daily lives. 3. Know Your Audience Too often films and TV shows are made without considering their target audience. A beloved franchise can be decimated by one wrong mistake from Hollywood elites, such as choosing a different leading actor or switching the plot from the source material. Audiences are the life force of entertainment. For healthcare organizations, many focus on solutions without knowing their audience. Pharma can spend millions on a new drug, getting regulatory approval and payor agreement, only for health seekers to refuse to use it. Digital health companies can create new applications that have no user engagement and therefore no impact on health outcomes. Healthcare is unusual in that it has many audiences it must engage with — from regulators, providers, to patients — but that doesn’t negate the importance of knowing your audience and meeting your audience in the story they’re in. Healthcare will continue to be a struggle — just ask Google and Apple — but now is the time to reevaluate the healthcare narrative and see how we can learn from other industries to find lasting, scalable solutions. Everybody deserves a healthcare experience that is as easy as going to the movies or scrolling through social media feed. What’s stopping your company from embracing a new narrative for health? Ari Mostov is a health entertainment pioneer. She is committed to scaling healing and changing behaviors through entertainment. She advises health companies on engagement and narrative strategy.

  • What if Disney did Healthcare?

    What if Disney did healthcare? I spent three years asking health executives this very question. Many found the question intriguing, but impossible to realize. Why would the most beloved brand in the world be crazy enough to take on healthcare? Well, why not? This past spring, Phillips and Disney announced a partnership to bring Disney’s beloved characters into the MRI experience. The program is being launched in six pediatric units across Europe and is Disney’s first foray into clinical research. One of the most beloved brands in the world, Disney’s prowess stems from their incredible storytelling capabilities. Disney has cracked the code for audience affinity and brand loyalty, using character-driven narratives to create generations of fans who can interact with their stories whenever and however they want. By leveraging its most valuable asset — characters — Disney is breaking down the walls of health stigma and siloization, helping create a new health experience that could transform the way we interact with our health. No longer will healthcare be scary, alienating and disempowering. Instead, our favorite Disney characters will incorporate health into our lives through interactive storytelling, innovative consumer experiences and character driven narratives. While Phillips and Disney work together to make MRIs a more tolerable experience, here are some ways Disney could expand its reach in health: Storylines Media representation is a powerful tool, one that Disney understands well. Disney’s show Doc MacStuffins is frequently praised for its positive health behavior modeling and accessible, empowering storylines for preschool age kids. Hopefully, Disney is expanding its slate to include more characters and stories set in the health space to help demystify complex health topics, like the immune system and chronic conditions. Health Visits There’s been a bit of discussion about what healthcare can learn from theme parks, but beyond experience design, there’s a massive opportunity for Disney’s characters to be a part of our health visits. Would kids be more excited to get their booster shots if they were administered by Elsa from Frozen? Would we be willing to withstand long wait times if there was an interactive exhibit on The Mandalorian in the waiting room? I believe in a future where our visits to the doctor’s office are a lot less anxiety inducing and a lot more enthralling if we’re able to incorporate our favorite characters into the mix. Medical Devices and Procedures While there are some consumer health products featuring our favorite Disney characters (Moana toothbrush, anyone?) I believe we will start seeing more medical devices and procedures being reimagined to be more character driven and a part of our favorite worlds. Trade in your boring inhaler for the same model used by Buzz Lightyear. Or maybe the next time you get an Xray, you can hang out with Miguel from Coco in VR. The possibilities are endless, and although these ideas are fun to tinker with, we can only measure their value based on their ability to improve health outcomes. Will Disney and Phillips’ bet pay off? We’re still waiting on results for that one, but if any company has what it takes to transform healthcare into a more engaging, consumer friendly experience, it’s going to be Disney.

  • Health in the Metaverse

    As the Metaverse transforms from trendy nerd-speak to must-have strategy, conversations dominate our social spaces about joining the Metaverse and what that means for work, retail and brands. Surely, the extension of our physical reality into a limitless virtual expanse must be powered strictly by consumerism and labor. That’s the only way we can make the Metaverse work, right? Perhaps, but as companies duel over virtual real estate and avatar fashion, I think about how the Metaverse will serve our basic needs. Without the limits of physical reality, what will we now have the ability to solve? Here are a few possibilities of how the Metaverse could help us solve one of our biggest, most complex challenges: healthcare Therapeutics Right now, mental and physical therapies have been extended into the virtual space with the use of VR headsets and some AR experiences. With the emerging metaverse, we will see therapeutics breaking out of their individual patient experiences and becoming a socially driven experience. The Metaverse provides a potentially safer alternative for health seekers to practice their therapies in social situations and interact with others, putting theory into practice without physical danger. Imagine a teenager struggling with social anxiety. They can enter the Metaverse and practice their social skills with other (virtual) individuals, all from the comfort and safety of their own home. Neuroplasticity and Behavior Change The Metaverse provides a malleable space for individuals to modify their behaviors. No longer limited to our physical reality, the Metaverse will host experiences that can rewire our neural pathways, accelerating healing and behavior change. I think of EMDR therapy, which uses bilateral rhythms to stimulate both sides of the brain to help heal old memories. This therapy could be blended into something more innocuous, like a virtual concert or group meditation. As the Metaverse expands, so do the opportunities for healing. Health Characters My favorite vision for health in the Metaverse is Health Characters. As reality ends and a new one begins, we will no longer be limited to the physically tangible. In the Metaverse, the microscopic concepts of health come to life. Meet the Red blood cell and explore its physical anatomy, join your White blood cells in a battle against Streptococcus, dance with your neurons as you learn a new shuffle step. These Health Characters will be as lively as your favorite Disney heroes, but instead of whisking you away to escapism, they help you understand how your own body works. Yes, this is one part Fantastic Voyage, one part Osmosis Jones — but it’s all doable in the Metaverse. From educational purposes to entertainment, we can finally interact with the tiniest aspects of our health. No longer will we be strangers to our own bodies, but instead we’ll be intimately involved with our own anatomy and able to advocate for our health with deeper understanding and conviction. That’s one of the driving forces why I created my mobile AR game Virus Hunters — to introduce players to their own health. I strongly believe that health literacy and health outcomes can improve if we reframe health as a character driven experience, blending interactive entertainment with accessible health knowledge. Ultimately, the Metaverse will make health more social and less prescriptive. It will be experiential, interactive and dare I say it, even fun?

  • Big Tech Won't Solve Healthcare

    Another one bites the dust And another one gone, another one gone…. Google Health has called it quits on a unified strategy to target healthcare, again shifting their health priorities to realign with their existing business divisions. This comes after reports that Apple is stepping back from a key health project, adding to the long list of Big Tech ambitious health plans coming to a screeching halt since the beginning of 2021. Big Tech might have given us ubiquitous digital experiences, but it’s not going to fix healthcare on its own. Big Tech doesn’t have the right story. Beyond the tangled web of US Healthcare policy, regulations and reimbursements, healthcare is a human-driven system. We’re dealing with humans, who are tricky, irrational, biased, individuals with specific needs and desires. Unlike machines, which can be solved with a simple “input-process-output” approach, humans need more than logic sequences. We need a healthcare narrative that we can call all our own. We are creatures of stories and the current healthcare experience will not be improved just with technology. So how will it be improved? How can we truly disrupt healthcare? Let’s look at today’s announcement from Headspace and Ginger. The two mental health companies are merging to form Headspace Health -- combining the story-driven experience of Headspace’s meditations with Ginger’s telehealth technology to deliver mental healthcare across the spectrum. Headspace has thrived because it delivers therapeutic benefits through story-driven content. Its entertainment partnerships and collaborations with the likes of John Legend, Sesame Street and Netflix redefine mental health as part of our daily lives, rather than sequestered into the corner of “disease” and “unwell”. Paired with Ginger’s telehealth interventions, I am confident Headspace Health will continue to create a new narrative for mental health; one that everyone feels they can be a part of. That’s the thing Big Tech is missing. We could have all this fancy technology at our fingertips but that doesn’t change the health story we’re in. Healthcare’s current story is narrated by health professionals -- as it should -- but without the co-ownership of patients. Who wants to be involved in a story they have no say of? Headspace’s meditation invites users to come along in the story. It disguises health concepts into easy, actionable entertainment. Headspace and other Health Entertainment properties are able to improve our wellbeing, without the punitive “do this or you’ll die” narrative that turns us off from listening to healthcare professionals in the first place. While Big Tech scrambles to salvage their healthcare efforts, my eyes are on Health Entertainment companies like Headspace Health who will bust the silos of health, entertainment and technology to truly disrupt healthcare and give Americans a consumer friendly health experience unrivaled by Big Tech.

  • Why Everyone Needs a Doctor in Their Pocket

    I have always had a doctor in my pocket. Which Over the Counter (OTC) allergy med is the best if I don’t want to be drowsy? Text Dad. My best friend was just diagnosed with a rare disease. Call Dad. Do we need to go to the ER? Facetime Dad. My dad is the doctor in my pocket. As an MD PhD professor at one of the best research medical centers in the world, having his expertise available — at no charge — is like having a skeleton key to the whole health care system. I can open any door and be greeted with open arms. For the first 26 years of my life, I lived in a blissful bubble of rapid treatment, cordiality and ease. And I thought everyone experienced healthcare the way I did. Surely everyone else had a doctor in their pocket, too? No. Not even close. Fast forward to last week when I was in the ER for an infection. The waiting room was packed with panicked patients, desperate for answers and care. I saw spouses trying to console their loved ones with dementia as they waited to be triaged, kids crying in pain and fear, the tired eyes of people trying to figure out where to go in the hospital. I sat calmly in my chair, trusting the ER department, knowing that a two-hour wait to be seen by the attending was typical. I had my powerbank for my phone, access to wifi, wrote my symptoms down chronologically, a list of medications ready for the nurse. I was unafraid, not because I knew I was getting treatment, but because all my healthcare experiences till now have been positive. I could articulate my ailments, I could understand the doctor’s shorthand, I could let them know my needs and I could always call dad. Everyone else didn’t have that same privilege. As I went through the ER, being tested, seen, diagnosed, and treated, I had the power and confidence that I was in control. If I didn’t understand something, I would ask my dad for his opinion. Did I need blood cultures? Yes. Were the antibiotics ordered the right kind? Yes. My dad, the doctor in my pocket, wasn’t concerned about my insurance coverage or history. He just wanted me to get the best treatment. And so did the care providers. Yet, as a patient with the knowledge and confidence to navigate the ER, the care I received was a little less patronizing. A little more on equal footing than the treatment I saw of the other patients who were lost in the system. I had an advocate in my pocket. What did they have? Today, even with the best care options and fierce patient advocacy communities, if you are not a member of the health literati you are an outsider. You are powerless in a system that even health professionals struggle to navigate. With the many silos, bureaucratic obstacles, and competing interests, it is near impossible to care for ourselves in such a broken system. As new health technologies and innovations deploy, I can’t help but wonder if they will really be able to solve the biggest issues in healthcare? Who will advocate for us? Who will help us find the solutions when we are at our worst? While technologists continue to unleash new features, trinkets and shiny bright objects claiming to alleviate our healthcare woes, most of us will never know what it’s like to have a doctor in our pocket. Until now. At WellPlay, it is my mission to scale healing. Everyone deserves to have a doctor in their pocket. Everyone deserves to be empowered in their own health and wellbeing. With a focus on digital self-care, health engagement and bodily integrity, I use entertainment to improve health outcomes. I invite you to follow me along this journey. Together we can create a new narrative for health.

  • Why Gamification Won’t Solve Treatment Adherence

    Browsing the App Store for treatment adherence applications, you will find dozens of products. While many boast appealing user interfaces and encouraging pop up notifications, these health application s do not solve the problem they were designed for: adherence. And while there are many nuances to the challenges of treatment adherence, I believe one of the biggest struggles is the lack of user engagement. People aren’t motivated to use these apps. Many have tried to remedy user disengagement by borrowing techniques from the gaming industry. And who can blame them when there’re over 2 billion mobile gamers worldwide? But even then, treatment adherence apps with gamification features such as Wellth and Mango Health haven’t broken through the noise. Gamification won't solve treatment adherence. Not on its own. Many digital health technologists are eager to add leaderboards and levels to their apps, but they are still missing the key ingredient for a successful experience: the story. Let’s step back and look at adherence from a larger perspective. Taking your medication properly is a loaded task. It’s not as simple as turning on the TV or texting with your friends. It has a lot of emotional baggage. If we’re receiving treatment, there must be something wrong with us, or why would we need it in the first place? Taking medication as directed requires an acknowledgement that something needs to change. A decision that is usually overwhelming and hard to understand when you’re not an MD. Having an application populate your screen with digital confetti each time you take a pill seems like a poor band-aid to a bigger, deeper issue. Gamified adherence apps know that dopamine rushes are useful, but they’re missing the bigger issue: the emotional journey. What’s the relevance of taking your treatment today? How does it help you? Why do you need this treatment in the first place? What’s the story? For health seekers in a treatment program, chances are the story that you’re in sucks. It’s not fun, it’s disempowering and it makes you feel like a failure. But what if your treatment adherence program immersed you in a new story? One where you feel capable, connected and confident? Ask any gamer why they play games and they’ll give you a slew of answers--fun, friendship, world building, challenge etc. In games, players have the agency and power to make their own decisions, exploring their story world with others and gradually progressing in skill set and achievement. Medication adherence is the total opposite: patients are victims of disease; unsure if the treatment will work and if they’re making progress. Health is an abstract concept, irrelevant if we don't understand what’s wrong and how the treatment will fix it. As we seek new, better solutions for treatment adherence its time to consider what story health seekers are experiencing. How can digital health apps improve comprehension and confidence? Instead of relying on gamification to solve adherence, we need to look at the treatment experience through the eyes of a game player; building an experience that activates agency, encourages world exploration and allows players to be the heroes of their health story.

  • Social+ Health

    Digital health is anti-social. No one likes today’s digital health products and platforms. Digital health doesn’t fit into our digital landscape of likes, comments and shares. Unlike TikTok, Fortnite and rising sensation Clubhouse, digital health doesn’t provide us with the opportunity to come together and be human. All too often, users will download a digital health app, maybe preview its features, and never return. I personally have over a dozen health apps I downloaded but never opened. I like the idea of digital health — who doesn’t? — but digital health products themselves are a flop. It’s time for health to become Social+. Social+ companies take a category — games, commerce, music, etc. — and build an integrated social experience around it. As D’Arcy Coolican of a16z put its “the best version of every consumer product is one that’s intrinsically social”. So how do we make Social+ health? 1. Move beyond data and information Health apps are too often experienced as charts and numbers, a big turn-off. Health information remains sterile and disengaging; data is pointless if there’s no context. Yet when health information is contextualized into understandable, social forms of health content — such as viral videos, sharable graphics and quick posts — we’re able to reach broader audiences and have health become a part of a larger social context. Social platforms like YouTube are recognizing the importance of better health messaging and have launched their new health content program — featuring videos from the leading health partners. An example of health content. However, health content is just the first step in making health Social+, as it only raises awareness. Awareness alone doesn’t necessarily generate a social experience. 2. Create a safe space for health stories As social creatures, our brains are built for stories. Social+ health is driven by stories — stories that are personal and relatable, vulnerable and inspiring. When we share our stories of health and healing, we are connecting with our communities and breaking down the barriers that make health so disenfranchising. Apps like MyHealthTeams and The Mighty facilitate safe places for health seekers to share their stories with others who can relate, offer support or simply acknowledge each others’ experience. 3. Build relationships that promote healing While health stories help us relate to each other and feel less alone, it’s our relationships that sustain us on our health journeys. Having a relationship with someone who is a part of our health journey provides us with the interaction we so desperately crave as social creatures. We cannot heal alone. We need relationships to navigate the difficulties of disease and ailments. We need the give and take of relating with one another, the dialogue and the companionship of other humans to keep going when healing proves difficult. Digital health products that feature these sorts of relationships such as Omada’s health coaches are able to make health social, but not necessarily Social+. 4. Create Consumer products are only really Social+ when they activate the most social of all activities: creating. Whether you’re creating new stories for Instagram, new worlds within Fortnite or new fashion accessories in augmented reality, humans are most social when we can create and express ourselves. A truly Social+ digital health product will act as a canvas for health seekers to create and share new health experiences, solutions and realities. Just look at Social+ companies like TikTok and Instagram. They boast billions of views for health creations, allowing a new narrative for health to emerge: a socially driven, empowering journey of healing that is no longer victim to stigma, but rather another opportunity to bond, relate and create. As digital health becomes more ubiquitous, we will see digital health companies try and manufacture social interactivity around their health products. But they will falter until they transform their health data and information into compelling content, provide a space for sharing stories, cultivate relationships that support healing and allow health seekers the opportunity to create. Only then will digital health reach Social+ status.

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