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HONY and mHealth – the Importance of Community

In case you missed it, a little boy and a roving photographer just raised one million dollars in less than a month. The photographer is Brandon Stanton, of Humans of New York, and the boy is Vidal, a middle school student at Mott Hall Bridges Academy in New York. Stanton has been taking pictures around New York City for over two years, portraits of the city’s inhabitants with captions that offer glimpses into their life. Stanton posted a picture in mid-January of Vidal, with a caption in which the boy described the impact his school’s principal had had on him. Stanton pursued this, visiting the school’s principal, Mrs. Lopez. He then learned that the school had many financial needs, and informed his followers. Stanton did not start a huge campaign or beg his followers for help. He just pursued a need, brought it to the attention of his established community, and then set up a way for them to help. Through these unobtrusive steps, over one million was raised by people all across the world. This is one of the clearest examples of the power of a social media community that has been seen in a while.

This is interesting news, certainly, but it seems fairly distant from the mHealth realm. An interesting charity strategy, perhaps, but the premise of the Humans of New York website is very different from that of most mobile healthcare companies. Much can be learned, however, from the community aspect of this story. Community impact is a large factor in every field, and in the mHealth field it is often overlooked. One of the reasons that Stanton’s campaign was so successful was because his community was already established. Stanton was not trying to find people and then give them information. He has over twelve million likes on Facebook and a steady following on Twitter and Tumblr as well. People expect his daily posts on their feed – when the post includes information on a way to help they are ready to jump in. This is a major asset, simply due to the nature of his work.

It would be fascinating to take this model and apply it to the healthcare world. A website that offered pictures of researchers all over the world and glimpses of their research and of their personalities. The same idea as Humans of New York, but specialized. Or an app integrated within community health centers that knit the community together, highlighting patients and doctors alike. The beauty of Stanton’s blog is that it is a fairly unbiased, varied glimpse into New York City life. Each post is different and offers a new perspective. This would be a interesting new aspect of mHealth; a way to weave the varied sides of healthcare together. From ultra-specialized researcher to low-income patient, a Humans of New York style community would be a good way to open the field, and to facilitate understanding of the many facets of healthcare.

Whether in an app, a community heath center, a website, or any other multitude of things, mHealth innovation begins when we take inspiration from non-healthcare models and weave it into the established framework.

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