Note to CES: More Innovation in Digital Healthcare, Energy Efficiency and Sustainability Please

Photo: Lotus flower, Flickr Creative Commons 2013

Photo: Lotus flower, Flickr Creative Commons 2013

In Greek mythology, the “lotus-eaters” were a race of people inhabiting an island near North Africa who subsisted on lotus flowers, a known narcotic that caused them to sleep in peaceful apathy. In the movie Percy Jackson & The Olympians: The Lightning Thief, the main characters barely escape a life of perpetual apathy in – wait for it – modern-day Las Vegas. As CES gets into full swing in the “Sin City,” it finally hit me that, like Percy, it may be time for another heroic escape.

Let me begin by confessing that I love technology. My mobile device is never more than a year or so old, I strategically position myself for the newest laptop at work and my home is as digitally tricked-out as my wallet allows.

Recently, however, I’m finding it harder to summon the same enthusiasm for consumer tech. Somehow the joy of moving from 720 to 1080p seems trivial in the face of a global water crisis, rising healthcare costs and government gridlock. This year, much of the reporting that I’ve read/seen coming from CES is mere sycophantic drivel. It’s as if I’m watching Percy eat lotus flowers, slipping into a mindless trance as he’s seduced by the surreal theater surrounding him.

But all is not lost. While entertainment-related gadgets such as the new Asus Qube still dominate CES (because we so need to enhance our TV-watching experience with the help of Google TV), consumer electronics innovation isn’t for entertainment alone. And that’s enough to excite me.

With comparatively less fanfare, companies such as iHealth, HealthSpot and Ideal Life (which announced a partnership with ADT during CES) are bringing innovation to Las Vegas that promises to solve real problems, not just entertain. The iHealth Wireless Smart Gluco-Monitoring System includes a detachable dongle that snaps onto an iPhone, iPod touch or iPad to simplify blood sugar monitoring. Convenient, yes, but there’s no reason it won’t also lead to better doctor-patient communication, better disease management and, ultimately, lower healthcare costs.

The HealthSpot Station is a cutting-edge “tele-health” system that provides high-quality medical diagnostic technology to patients anytime, anywhere. The private, walk-in kiosk increases access to diagnosis and treatment by board-certified doctors via high-definition videoconferencing and interactive digital medical devices. This is high-definition, interactive TV that doesn’t entertain; it improves health.

What’s missing? Beyond the exciting and transformative healthcare solutions, I’d like to see something related to water and/or sustainability, starting with technologies to help rapidly build out “smart water grids.” Next year, it would be nice to see companies such as Itron, Cisco and their potential partners – including companies such as Zonoff (which is at CES this year) – showing off technologies to a CES audience that push water conservation and “individual sustainability” deeper into the consumer consciousness.

I’m guessing that I’m not alone in hoping for innovations in consumer technology that aspire to more than just better entertainment. Since we rely on CES to set the tone for upcoming year, I’m hoping the glimmer we see in healthcare technology is just the beginning of even greater changes in 2014. After all, if we continue to wantonly worship “lotus flower tech,” innovation that simply encourages our society’s precipitous lull into peaceful apathy, we’re missing a heroic opportunity. Percy eventually woke up and escaped the lotus eaters, so should we.

Scott Bauman is executive vice president at Greenough. Follow him on Twitter @sbauman

Electronic Medical Records are Worth the Growing Pains

Photo: Discovery News 2012

Photo: Discovery News 2012

The implementation of electronic medical records (EMRs) has become a hot-button topic in the medical arena. This New York Times article published in October nicely lays out both sides of the ongoing debate.

The fact that EMRs have the ever-elusive bi-partisan support, and wide industry support as well, makes them seem fail-safe; but the complicated initiative brings up a number of hurdles ranging from privacy concerns to the new maze of questions and options doctors must navigate for each patient.  Some of the biggest concerns (challenges which all digital databases face) are vulnerability to crashes and hacking.  Hospitals will have to create contingency plans for how to access records if the system fails, and systems must come equipped with major privacy and anti-hacking mechanisms. The biggest complaint from the doctors’ side is that the interfaces are not completely user-friendly and were seemingly created with little input from doctors themselves.  The databases can be awkward, often not quite fitting exactly what the doctors need.  And clicking through all of the questions and menus is often time consuming resulting in the physician spending more time interacting with the computer instead of the patient.  As one doctor put it in a Wall Street Journal article, “it seems as if this is all about taking care of the chart, as opposed to taking care of the patient. Documentation is important, but the pointing and clicking and cutting and pasting we are so focused on in demonstrating meaningful use of EMR may be getting in the way of meaningful encounters with our patients.”

There are definitely growing pains that come with implementing an EMR system, but in my view the benefits far outweigh any initial difficulties.  New equipment and protocols always take getting used to, but the value of having an individual’s entire medical history on record is immeasurable.  These digital records offer tremendous convenience when it comes to refilling a prescription, scheduling an appointment, or even emailing your doctor a quick question, rather than having to make a phone call or wait for an appointment.

A recent Huffington Post article details a prime example of how one individual used his EMR online system to get a hold of prescription information he needed while traveling abroad.  I actually have personal access to the PAMF My Health Online site he refers to in the article and can confirm how helpful it is.  Not only is it a luxury to have easy access to all of your medical information, but in the end, I believe it results in better care for patients.  If someone is taken to the ER, even a doctor who has never worked with that patient before can pull up his or her entire medical history, allowing for easier diagnosis and better treatment.  Having that wealth of information on hand for all doctors’ visits ensures that nothing is missed, and ultimately improves the quality of care.

Our home state of Massachusetts, often looked to as a pioneer in the healthcare arena, has been taking steps forward to make easy access to medical records a reality.  It recently launched its Health Information Exchange, inaugurated by Governor Deval Patrick ceremoniously sending his records from a hospital in Boston to one in Springfield.  The program began with the participation of nine healthcare providers, including Partners Healthcare, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and Network Health, and now has “over 40 organizations that are in our pipeline to bring on board,” reported Laurance Stuntz, director of the Mass HIE, in a recent Healthcare IT News interview.

From my millennial perspective, it seems ludicrous not to have such important data electronically recorded somewhere.  I understand there are imperfections in the new system, but if the only source of information I have on my vaccine history is that little piece of yellow cardstock that has been following me since my early childhood – that seems incredibly inadequate.  I envision the transition to digital health records will be much like the switch to online banking.  Initially people feared having personal financial information on the web, but now couldn’t imagine not to being able to pay their bills online or check their account balance on their phone.

There is always a “breaking-in” period when a major overhaul happens, especially when it involves a system that has been in place for decades. Kinks always take a little time to work their way out of new software, but medical records, and the quality care that will come from easy-access to them, are too valuable to keep stored in file cabinets.

Lucy Muscarella is a Consultant at Greenough. Follow her on Twitter: @lucymuscarella

Visual Storytelling Crucial to Marketing Success

For years, video was an entertainment-only medium – a plop down on the couch, feet up, relax after a hard day activity.  Workers caught watching videos at their desks were seen as slackers.  But nowadays, video is no longer a novelty.  It’s a marketing necessity because of how powerfully it can tell brand stories.
72 hours of video is uploaded to YouTube every minute. The site boasts 4 billion views per day and the demand keeps growing.  In fact, Cisco predicts that by 2013, 90% of all Internet traffic will be video.

So what makes it such a powerful and versatile tool?

Video – more than any other tool at a brand’s disposal – can establish a personality for your company.   It can put a face to your brand, bring your products to life and connect the company with customers in ways that print and web collateral simply cannot.  But that is not to say that traditional media should be ignored.

Check out MC10’s two-pronged approach.  A winner of the Wall Street Journal Technology Innovation Award, Massachusetts-based MC10 is on the brink of revolutionizing the medical industry with its conformable electronics.  This recent article in Time details the medical benefits the company offers while the video below brings to life how the technology integrates with the body.

MC10 Demo:  Making Stretchable Electronics

MC10 Demo: Making Stretchable Electronics

By combining company-created visual storytelling with more conventional storytelling, companies like MC10 are building a greater connection with their audiences and more rapidly moving from awareness to affinity and, ultimately, customer action.  So what role does video play in your communication and marketing strategy?  How can video increase your brand affinity or loyalty?  If your brand has yet to embrace visual storytelling and video, then it’s missing out on a huge opportunity.

Christine Williamson is a senior consultant at Greenough. Follow her on Twitter @ChristineDBW

Price Cut or Privacy? User-Based Auto Insurance

Photo: Automoblog 2011

Photo: Automoblog 2011

Companies are increasingly interested in tracking the habits of their customers to better understand who their audience is and to hook frequent customers with tailored content or rewards.  Amazon began doing it back in the late 90’s and now everything from radio stations to grocery stores are customizing their patrons’ experiences.  Customization is gaining traction in the auto insurance industry with new user-based programs, but this raises a question: is a discount worth the requisite loss of privacy

Many auto insurers are now offering steep discounts – up to 50% – to customers who agree to install new telematics tracking technology in their cars.  These devices usually measure the times of day and distances you typically drive, how hard you brake, and how rapidly you accelerate.  Some also track your top speeds and general location information to ensure that you are driving and storing your car in the area specified on your application.  The idea is that those who drive less or demonstrate safer handling should be rewarded for being low-risk.  Drivers get a custom discount based on how they are individually using their car, rather than basing pricing on demographic information (higher rates for 16-25-year-olds, etc.).

Telematics devices are available through different providers in all but eight states, and participation is growing steadily.  The Boston Globe reported that more than 1.5 million American drivers have already enrolled in telematics programs, and analysts say that number could increase tenfold in the next several years.

This new technology has been regarded by industry leaders as the biggest development in auto insurance policy underwriting in years, but it’s also creating a bit of ‘big brother’ buzz as customers wonder just what information these devices will be capable of gathering and what carriers will do with the data.  As with many cases of consumer-tracking and customization, customers ask themselves if they are willing to give up their privacy for a reward.

According to recent surveys, more than 80% of drivers reported that they would be willing to install a tracking device in order to receive a discount.  However, I imagine as this technology becomes more prominent, the uproar from privacy advocates will cause people to become more skeptical.

I’d bet that younger generations who have grown up giving out their information for more personalized results (location data, online shopping habits, etc.) will happily buy into this new program for a few hundred dollars off their annual bill.  But for customers to be completely at ease with sharing, insurers will have to be transparent about what and how they are tracking, and the discounts will have to be significant.

It will be interesting to see how user-based insurance develops. Let us know what you think!  Would you be comfortable having your driving habits tracked?

Lucy Muscarella is a Consultant at Greenough. Follow her on Twitter:  @lucymuscarella

Can Intelligent Furniture Actually Improve Human Interaction?

Mozayo M42-Pro

Mozayo M42-Pro

I read an article last week that blew my mind. We’ve come to rely on technology in our smartphones, tablets, GPSs and mp3 players that we only dreamed about before. Now, yet again, we are on the brink of an evolutionary shift –according to the article, technology is evolving at such a rapid pace that it is now emerging in furniture. Yes, you read that right, furniture.Gone are the days of old, antique coffee tables— soon, every home will contain an “intelligent” coffee table, which is essentially a giant iPad with, err, legs.

My first reaction to this was, “You have got to be kidding me!” A smart coffee table? I’m all for technology that makes our lives easier, but a smart coffee table seems absurd. Not only does it take away the charm that familiar or unique coffee tables bring to a home (and let’s face it, the smart coffee table looks fairly ridiculous), such a device (or should I call it a home accessory?) discourages something technology opponents have fought for a long time: good old human interaction. Or does it?

I do have issues with the actual appearance (I’d take an old-fashioned home over a modern one any day) and the fact that it discourages spending time outdoors. But those issues aside, I could argue that it might actually encourage human interaction. Right now a common living room scene includes family members sitting around, each playing on his or her iPad or iPhone, barely interacting with one another. At least with an intelligent coffee table, families and friends can “play” together, whether that means watching a YouTube video or playing electronic monopoly. I recognize the irony, but perhaps an intelligent coffee table is what’s needed to revive Saturday Board Game Night, which sadly, has seemed to disappear, in part because of technology.

Some people are technology enthusiasts while others hate it with a passion. However, no matter how you feel, technology will continue to evolve and there’s not much we can do to stop it. Software/computing companies such as  Microsoft and Samsung, along with actual manufacturers such as Mozayo, are already taking steps to ensure that intelligent coffee tables (among other things) will become a part of everyday life. (Not to mention the opportunity such furniture represents for electronic gaming giants like Electronic Arts (EA) and Rovio). Just like the “anti-smartphone user” who now swears by his or her iPhone, we will see resistance at first, but that will fade. And here’s my point: Instead of fighting technology’s infiltration into every aspect of our lives, let’s focus on the ways in which technology can actually encourage and improve human interaction, regardless of what form it takes.

Jessica Boardman is a senior consultant at Greenough. Follow her on Twitter @J_Boardman.

Governor’s Life Sciences Focus Will Benefit the Bay State

Governor Deval Patrick has had a few solid wins of late. At the risk of sounding partisan, the Governor’s varying initiatives to create new jobs is good news for all Massachusetts residents.
Whether he’s rallying the clean/green sector through the Green Communities Act, encouraging the growth of the Bay State robotics industry or pushing big data as the next Massachusetts IT sector, his various initiatives to help the local economy recover are encouraging.

Last week the Governor attended the grand opening of a new Thermo Fisher Scientific Center for Excellence in Tewksbury. The facility promises to add another 100 jobs in research, development and manufacturing over the next five years. The Tewksbury ribbon-cutting ceremony marks another event in a series of announcements preceding this week’s BIO International Convention at the Boston Convention & Exhibition Center.

Back in 2008, the Governor inked a 10-year, $1 billion investment package designed to spur research, investment, innovation and commercialization in the Bay State’s life sciences industry. Apparently it’s working: The Massachusetts Biotechnology Council reports that R&D jobs in Massachusetts increased from 46,380 in 2008 to 48,647 in 2010. The biopharma sector has seen more than 52 percent job growth since 2001, and statewide more than 80,000 employees currently work in life sciences or related industries.

Many experts believe that number will increase as more companies—especially European-based biotechnology and life science players–set up local operations in Massachusetts. In fact, “at least 15 companies from Europe have set up shop or expanded operations in the Bay State over the past four years,” according to a recent article in the Boston Globe.

No matter how you cut it, this is great news for Bay State businesses, consumers and job seekers. Keep up the great work, Governor.

Barbara Call is director of content at Greenough.