Talya Miron-Shatz Ph.D.

Baffled by Numbers

Three tips for the mobile healthcare industry

What grumpy women can teach the mobile health industry

Posted Sep 24, 2010

The night London's quite fabulous mobile healthcare conference ended, I found myself watching ‘Grumpy Old Women', a program the like of which can only be found on the BBC. The ladies were ranting about pretty much everything, from men's house cleaning habits or lack thereof, to answering machines. When I heard them mentioned mobile phone, however, I really pricked up my ears.

Having just spent two intensive days with the most creative, innovative people in the mobile and healthcare industries, I was amazed at the TV show throwing in my face such pronounced disconnect between man (woman, rather), and technology. Rather than shoo the grumpy old women, I turned up the volume, soaking in the lessons the grumpy women had for the industry.

One woman did a whole scat routine, demonstrating how phones never ring anymore, but rather make cacophonic pseudo-jazzy sounds. Another complained about how phones take an entire week to program, including your contacts, favorite apps, etc., and then die "because you haven't got the right port or mac or bananar" [this is how the English pronounce banana, they cannot help it] or something."

The ladies' rants resonated a furious criticism raised from the audience in the panel I was on at the conference, discussing whether companies were doing the right thing by developing apps and only addressing iPhone owners, "a population the size of Polish passport holders." The analogy brought about vehement protest from 3G Doctors' CEO, David Doherty, rightly contending that developments inevitably start at the most sophisticated level, then trickle down to developing countries by, shall we say, various forms of osmosis. But is this the point, really? Because if ordinary, non-techy consumers find mobile health applications and systems impossible to operate, let alone navigate, they are unlikely to adopt, recommend, and continually use them. So the first lesson is to make the technology simple, friendly and easy to use, requiring as few ports, macs, or bananars as possible.

The women next stormed at puzzling parking signs and instructions, such as "no return under two hours." "What does it mean?" one of them pondered. "If I have to go buy something at Boots [the English equivalent of CVS or Duane Reade] and it takes 15 minutes, I need to get a coffee or something because I cannot return to my car until it's been two hours?" It's all very funny when parking instructions are written in such a way that sharp female UK residents cannot make sense of them. When this happens in the medical realm, it is far less amusing. The second lesson, then, is, make the language, not just the design, unequivocally clear.

The final pearl of wisdom also comes from the parking sphere but can be widely applied elsewhere. One woman suggested adding voice to the parking meter, and with such lovely script. The lines she wrote for the meter were no less then: ‘Welcome. Please pay and join a raffle for a dinner with Elton John'. She observed, in an almost majestic tone, that "it'll be so much fun, whilst still extracting some income from the citizens." Welcome. How about that? How different would our parking payment, medical device usage, or any other experience be if it involved some emotion? If we felt we were being greeted, acknowledged, appreciated? If Wouldn't a pinch of fun help increase people's adherence to medication and to wellbeing regimens, their usage of medical devices, and their addiction to health apps? What would it do to customer retention rates if men and women, young and old, became a little less grumpy? The third lesson is, in Joan Armatrading's words "show some emotion."

These lessons, of user friendliness, simplicity and an emotional flair, extend well beyond English grumpy old women, who are in fact, beautifully un-botoxed and not grumpy at all. They can help push forward the fledgling mobile health industry.

More on the conference at:


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