You are what you eat? Online and offline consumption

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The internet is increasingly influencing our diet and attitudes towards food – from online advertising about the latest diet plan, to accessing nutritional information about what you’re eating, ordering take-away via a smartphone and mobile applications able to assist with developing a grocery list.

The recent media discussions regarding traffic light food labelling have made nutrition a hot national topic – even more so now information about any kind of food is available at the press of a button. We’ve also seen an explosion of apps designed to help us make considered decisions about food and avoid the danger of eating hidden fats and sugars.  One that was launched this week is ‘food switch’- positioned as a tool to empower Australian shoppers to make healthier food choices. The app allows users to scan the barcode of packaged foods using their iPhone camera and receive easy to understand nutritional advice.

New Year resolutions

January is typically the month to kick-start our healthy eating resolutions and the nation’s dietitians are encouraging Australians to take part in a healthy ‘pledge’ campaign in tangent with Australia’s Healthy Weight Week (22-29 January). This social-media based campaign encourages users to publish their pledges via a Facebook page and Twitter profile. Ten years ago, such a supportive and motivating digital platform would not have existed, but in today’s social media environment, we are able to benefit from immediate, interactive digital programs.

Facebook

Online support

Weight management is also big business online, with the availability of personalised online tools for those who want to access support and information in the comfort of their homes. This is particularly helpful to those situated in remote areas of Australia and who don’t feel comfortable attending a face-to-face meeting. Weight Watchers Online enables people to remotely track what they are eating, monitor their weight and develop an interactive shopping list.

The Government has also launched a number of digital initiatives providing nutritional support. There is the Healthy kids: Eat well, get active website, positioned as a ‘one stop shop’ of information about healthy eating and physical activity for parents and carers, teachers and childcare workers, health and other professionals and kids and teens . There is also the Government’s digital Swap It, Don’t Stop It campaign encompassing a mobile app and website, helping users to make healthier choices.

Accredited practicing dietitian and infant nutritionist Kate di Prima says, “More often than not, patients I see are educated about food and what they’re feeding their families. A contributing factor is the plethora of information accessible via the internet. It’s important to use reputable sources – there is a lot of dialogue happening, which can sometimes seem overwhelming. The flip side is we’re inspired to cook more adventurously and use ingredients that we may not have previously considered.”

Fashionable nutrition

Indeed, examples such as the Create Nutrition blog and journalist/media commentator Sarah Wilson’s blog define modern, fashionable nutrition.

In this day and age, smartphones mean that every one of us is a potential food critic, having the ability to write immediate, online reviews, while seated in the restaurant. This in turn means that food standards need to be high.

Fruit

It will be interesting to see what the future holds and if the shelf life of online nutrition tools expires before the groceries go off!

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How to develop a successful medical/health application

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The functionalities and variations of medical applications (apps) are developing at a rapid pace. An iPod can now convert to a heart monitor or an Android phone can act as an electronic stethoscope by connecting to an external sensor. In relation to this, we saw a fundamental development on July 21, 2011 with the draft guidance from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The guidelines suggest three types of apps should require the FDA’s approval: a mobile app that acts as an accessory to a regulated medical device, turns a mobile gadget into such a device or makes suggestions regarding a patient’s diagnosis or treatment. Previously, there has been very little guidance for digital health tools and this could be indicative of digital codes of practice set to emerge in Australia. This is definitely something to bear in mind when considering developing a medical/health app.

medical app

Why your app must be useful to others

It is important to know the users you are serving and/or targeting. When thinking about building an app, you need to validate your assumptions of the perceived value that the app will bring and also do your research! An app can give your business/brand(s) a competitive advantage, but importantly, you must determine its core purposes.

There are many things to consider – for example button size. Will the users predominately be male or female? If the users are men, then they will have bigger hands and the app buttons will need to reflect this in size. Will the users have good eye sight? You may need to incorporate a functionality that enlarges text.

The app development stages

Below are the key stages to consider when developing an app:

1)      The initial concept. Start with the idea and what features the app will include. This is when you map out the timeline and scope out the budget. You need to define your purpose and it is important to be clear about the ultimate use, benefit and functionality. The app functionality needs to be user friendly – it is important to ensure that features are discoverable and not hidden and it helps if the app has the ‘wow’ factor in order to engage the user.

2)      Design. Investing time in the visual design is crucial. Design is a key element to help the app stand out from others on the market and it also impacts on usability and sense of value. High quality visuals influence users’ perceptions that the app is worthwhile and going to provide a benefit. Excellent design also reinforces the business/brand(s).

3)      Development.  Key elements include building a framework, expanding the features, designing the user interface, coding the functionality of the features, and all other creative and technical components of the app. 

4)      Testing. You should look to solicit feedback from a pilot to ensure the launch of the app runs smoothly. Feedback is necessary in the development cycle and usability is critical to the success of an app. You need to think about the processes and factor in suitability testing. There is the expectation amongst users that apps will be immediately intuitive, therefore in-field testing amongst the target demographic will provide valuable insights into the appropriate build for the app. If things go wrong with the functionality, then naturally users will question the usability and rationale of the app.

5)       Release and maintenance. It is important to be mindful of marketplace guidelines to aid market acceptance for your app. Apple, for example, reviews every app featured on the App Store based on a set of technical, content, and design criteria. The Apple review criteria are available in the App Store Review Guidelines.

Other considerations

Be aware of hidden costs. Costs to consider in addition to the app build may, for example, include user experience, testing and online marketing.

Organisational engagement. You need to take the business and/or brand teams on the journey when developing an app. Get all departments on board, so they can take ownership of the app when it launches.  Everyone in the organisation should know who you’re creating the app for, what you are creating and why.

The ultimate measure of success for your app will be determined by downloads, feedback and the user response, which may translate via testimonials.

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2D codes in health – driving audiences online

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Much of the current buzz around mobile technologies is centred on the potential of 2D codes for marketing, PR and communications. These are 2-dimensional codes similar to a linear (1-dimensional) barcode, but with more data representation capability. They can be printed on promotional materials and scanned using a mobile device, taking the user to pages of rich visual and audio content, downloads and social media platforms. Types of 2D code include the QR code (Quality Response), which is one of the most popular, the EZ code and Microsoft Tags.

(image via Pulse + Signal)

(image via Pulse + Signal)

Although 2D codes have been around since the 1990s, 2011 is being hyped as the year we finally see the full height of their splash within the industry – thanks to the current mobile device revolution with their host of 2D scanning applications, as well as increased social awareness.

Based on the recommendations of two expert Mashable authors, here are some key dos and don’ts to remember when exploiting this technology to achieve your goals in healthcare communications:

Do…

  1. Put your 2D codes on every single piece of promotional material you have – posters, flyers, stickers, media kits, magazine ads, websites – creativity is the key. Check out this balloon example.
  2. Help your audiences to use your 2D codes by including a line of copy that explains what they are and where they can download the code reader, e.g. BeeTag.com, i-nigma.com and ScanLife.com.
  3. Add value for your audiences to motivate them to scan your 2D codes. Offer exclusive, tailored and relevant content, incentives such as giveaways and competitions, videos or interactive activities and games, such as the innovative exhibit at the Smithsonian’s Natural History Museum which invites you to scan the 2D code to morph yourself back in time with MEanderthal.
  4. Place a compelling call to action in a prominent position near your QR code so that it is immediately clear to your audience what they will get from scanning the code.
  5. Track the traffic to your 2D landing page, in order to measure the success of your campaign.
(image via 2D Barcode Strategy)

(image via 2D Barcode Strategy)

Don’t…

  1. Bother if you are not going to offer original, inspiring or relevant content for your audiences.
  2. Use code formats that require a particular scanning app to work.
  3. Forget to scan test the 2D codes printed on your printed proofs.
  4. Drive your users to pages containing Flash or any site not specifically optimised for mobile browsing.
  5. Forget to update your content and offerings – your audiences should be inspired to scan not just once but again and again.

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Paging Dr iPad?

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In true Steve Jobs (Apple CEO) fashion, the iPad launched last week with a bang. Apple’s slick answer to the tablet computer is essentially a bigger and better iPod Touch – sitting somewhere between smartphones and small computers.

Even before the gadget has hit Australian shores, speculation about the iPad has thundered through the community. Not surprisingly, it has also made noise in the medical area – after all, many healthcare professionals already use the iPhone and about 3,100 (granted, US-centric) health apps are already in existence. This week, 6minutes published an interesting article on the iPad’s potential role in medicine, which has already attracted mixed reviews of the device from local medics.

Steve Jobs shows off the iPad

Steve Jobs shows off the iPad - Cube blog post

So, is it time to tout this new device as ‘iDoc’?

The reviews have certainly been mixed. While some suggest the iPad is what doctors have been dreaming of since the PC revolution began, others say the iPad is not ready for healthcare.

To focus on one area, many have discussed the iPad’s potential in the hospital setting. Will it help doctors with ward rounds – gathering and sharing patient information, as well as its use as a patient education tool? Features like portability, a high-definition colour touch screen, multimedia content and wireless connectivity may certainly help. However, critics list a plethora of reasons why the iPad has no place in the hospital. It’s inability to multitask or take a photo and lack of a USB port and Flash support.

Local physicians offer mixed reviews. Sydney General Practitioner Dr Raymond Seidler says that for a GP who likes gadgets, the sleek and stylish iPad has everything he wants. Both he and his 12-year-old daughter are eagerly awaiting the iPad – but for different reasons.

Dr Seidler’s daughter is looking forward to watching movies, checking her Facebook and downloading first-run books to take to school, without adding to the 15 kg to her backpack. While Dr Seidler will be able to check e-mail, YouTube and listen to podcasts from his favourite online sites, the BBC or the New Yorker.

Medical textbooks like Harrison’s online will be a click away and the large screen does away with my need for spectacles, which are necessary when I’m squinting at my tiny iPhone, he said.

Professor Jeff Szer, a Melbourne-based haematologist, agrees that technology like the iPhone/iPod Touch have a role to play in medicine. Professor Szer’s perspective on the iPad, however, is that the gadget is unlikely to change the face of how medicine is practiced.

This device has been preceded by a decade of tablet devices, none of which has found anything but niche uses in some health-related areas. I do not expect the iPad to be a game-changer.

While Professor Szer believes that “connectedness” is important for information exchange and communication in medicine, he will not rush out to buy an iPad.

A recent survey by Software Advice showed that while healthcare professionals welcome tablet computers and iPhones, this does not mean the iPad is the solution, as it lacks a number of fundamental features necessary in the healthcare field. 

The iPad certainly has its supporters and critics – but will it affect how medicine is practiced in Australia? We’ll just have to wait and see.

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