Top 5 Takeaways from Digital Health Communications Extravaganza

Feb 25

Top 5 Takeaways from DHCX

Last week I had the pleasure of attending the Digital Health Communications Extravaganza (DHCX) conference in sunny Orlando. The conference is completely focused on the intersection of digital technologies and health, my two favorite things. Speakers discussed everything from social media measurement, the mobile web, data mining, gamification, startups, and the ePatient, and I had the opportunity to meet some fascinating thought leaders in the digital health space. In sum, not only was the beautiful weather a treat (70 degrees!), so was the conference.

Here are my top 5 takeaways from DHCX:

  1. Social objects can be used to frame social media experiences. Craig Lefebvre of socialShift discussed how social objects are the things that drive people to talk to each other, and creating engaging digital experiences requires understanding of what your social objects are. What’s critical to remember when creating social media content is that messages aren’t social objects, things are. We need to use objects to get people to talk to each other, not expect the text we write to be a uniter. It won’t be.
  2. mHealth is everywhere. In nearly every presentation, the growth of gadgets that use the mobile web was discussed. Speaker after speaker (including myself) spoke to the importance of having health websites that are ready to accommodate visitors through the mobile web. Jeremy Vanderlan from ICF International spoke to the experience of creating AIDS.gov. By building the site in responsive design, users are able to see the site render properly on nearly any device that uses the mobile Web. Not only is the site accessible on a most mobile devices, it receives preferential treatment in Google search because it doesn’t have a separate URL for its mobile site (e.g., m.aids.gov).
  3. Gamification can work, but it must involve the users at every step of the creation process. A panel of experts discussed their experience creating games for health, including rehab, smoking cessation, physical activity, and HIV prevention. All the speakers discussed the importance of designing with the user in mind, and doing testing to ensure that the design, structure, and content works for both the end outcome and the user. Sheryl Flynn from Blue Marble Game Company discussed her experience creating games for rehab, and how initial progress assessments within the games were more subtle (so as to create a more positive user experience). However, health care providers administering the games wanted to embed gold standard assessments. Upon receiving this feedback, the company added both, and the providers are patients are able to choose which they prefer.
  4. Testing digital programs to build evidence of their efficacy is challenging, but possible. Success is more likely when you build on strategies you already know work. Many of the speakers discussed the challenges of completing randomized trials for digital technologies, given the high speed of technology and the slow pace of the trial process. Applying theories that have been shown to work off-line to the digital space can help ensure success given the lack evidence for digital programs. Jessica Hammer from Lit2Quit discussed how her team applied “breath therapy” (where breathing techniques are used to simulate the experience of smoking a cigarette to help people quit) to a mobile game. Breath therapy has been shown to work off-line, which helped her team know that it could work digitally as well. Testing could be conducted after launch to confirm efficacy of the app in helping people quit.
  5. Best of digital usually involves the blending of digital and physical experiences. Speakers discussed how combining digital and physical experiences can often be the most powerful. Bradley Kreit from IFTF, Ann Aikin from FDA, and Amy Heldman from CDC spoke to how campaigns can successfully do this. Movember (which Ogilvy Washington participated in this year) encourages men to grow moustaches (the physical) and then post about their ‘staches to their social networks to spread awareness of men’s health issues and fundraise (the digital). NASA brings people interested in science into its space center to give them a private tour (the physical), creating an insider experience the attendees will want to share with their social networks (the digital). Often, Aikin said, it can be challenging to convince people in public health that the digital can’t just be online actions—there must be an offline component to truly drive sharing. Their statements support what Lefebvre said about social objects, and I totally agree with them (see my previous post on how Saks did this is in their Christmas window display).


I had a great time geeking out this week with my fellow digital health nerds. DHCX attendees: what were your key takeaways?

This entry was posted on Monday, February 25th, 2013 at 2:03 pm and is filed under HCSM, Public Health, Social Marketing, Social Media. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

2 Responses to “Top 5 Takeaways from Digital Health Communications Extravaganza”

  1. Kitty Harding says:

    Thanks for sharing, Emily. I definitely left the conference energized by all the innovative ideas and exciting work people shared. One of my main takeaways was how important it is to put the researchers and academics, communications people, engineers, and start ups and technology companies together in a room. We have so much to learn from each other and such great opportunities to collaborate.

  2. Very true, Kitty! Learning from others with different experiences than mine was also a highlight for me from the conference.