Lady Gaga: Calling Health?
It’s probably fair to say that Lady Gaga isn’t the first person you think of with Mobile Health (mHealth). Accessing patient records, behaviour change resources, and information on wellbeing are topics that reside closer on the spectrum of similarity than those most associated with the current reigning queen of pop.
But looking a little deeper, there is reason to consider that this image is a little more than a poker face (bad pun intended). Let me point to the comparisons.
1. One of central points of comparison is that, like mHealth opportunities, there is no escaping Lady Gaga. Her music is everywhere — in front, as background music, as a harbinger of taste (good and bad, depending on the audience), and something people are talking about. MHealth is in the same boat.
2. Consider that Lady Gaga herself is the subject of considerable attention. She’s on the cover and profiled in this month’s Vanity Fair and her image is strewn all over the Internet. She is what people are talking about. MHealth is likewise. If you want more Twitter followers, add #mhealth. If you want more readers, subscribers, and conversation, talk of mHealth. It is a very hot topic in the world of healthcare and mobile technologies.
3. Lady Gaga is a mystery. While we know her roots and her family name, there is surprisingly little that is known about the “real” Lady Gaga. How much is style and show and how much is her? That holds true for mHealth. Without a large field of research and evidence, the entire mHealth phenomenon is a bit of a mystery to many in and out of the industry. It is perhaps for that reason that many members of the public are not sold on the reasons for why they should need or want to access medical information like personal health records using electronic tools as was recently reported this week.
There are also a couple of areas where the comparison between her and mHealth should be strong, but isn’t.
4. Lady Gaga is enmeshed with social media. This past week, Lady Gaga surpassed Britney Spears to become the pop Queen of Twitter. Never to miss an opportunity to mark this regal occasion, Ms. Gaga went to YouTube, where she was, until recently upended by Justin Beiber, creator of the most watched video on that channel of all time. Surprisingly, mHealth hasn’t quite got there yet. There are many apps for health to be sure, and some of them are quite well put together, but most of them use a model of service that represents a push model of service, rather than a social model of conversation.
This issue of conversation was the topic that marketing thought leaders Mitch Joel and Joe Jaffe spoke about yesterday in their live-fed podcast discussion. That conversation centred on the idea that marketing is rarely about conversation per se, but trying to get information to people quickly with the hope that it will lead to something. True conversation requires relationships and time and many companies are not willing to do what it takes to get there. I would argue that the same holds true in the health sector and its related industries. There is too much money to be made quickly to slowly develop relationships, healthcare institutions are not (ironically) set up for relationship development, and health providers are rarely given the resources or incentives to spend the time with their patients in real time, let alone develop social media channels. Its therefore no surprise that mHealth and social media are struggling to find their way in their relationship.
5. Lady Gaga delivers. In conversation with colleagues and reading reviews of her concerts by even reluctant fans (I have not yet seen the spectacle that is the Monsters Ball) one story emerges: it is an amazing performance. And by performance, it means that she entertains and delivers something of value to her audience. From what I hear and read, even those who do not consider themselves as one of Gaga’s ‘Little Monsters‘ (i.e., fans), she is worth the price of admission to see. MHealth still isn’t there…yet. Indeed, for the reasons discussed above and in previous posts, there is a lot of questions about mHealth and what it can, will and should deliver. So far, its delivering on simple things like iPhone apps and push-model tools, but little on interactive, social media-based programs. The potential is to create environments of truly interactive, user-driven health content.
A project that I’m involved with is trying to do this. My research group and partners just lauched the Youth4Health website and, in the next few weeks, will have our multi-platform app distributed to youth with iPhones to provide mobile content as well. It’s a start.
6. Lastly, Lady Gaga is a 360 degree celebrity. She makes much of her own clothes, runs her own design shop, writes her songs, and produces many of her own work. She also has relationships with her distribution channels, including a sponsorship with Virgin Mobile. MHealth is nowhere near this. As an mHealth researcher, I can point to few peers who have relationships with developers, producers, the public, funders and distribution channels at the same time. It is for that reason that this work takes so long to build and why mHealth is either run by non-health professionals or run badly and in obscurity by health professionals.
Maybe mHealth needs to take a little more from the reigning Queen of Twitter and get a little more bold, stylish and out there. Then, and maybe then, will we see its promise unfold.