From 3-D printing prosthetic limbs for amputees in war-torn countries to helping deaf individuals experience music, Mick Ebeling, founder of Not Impossible Labs, doesn’t stray from a creative challenge. He’s transforming health one novel invention at a time by creating disruptive technology that solves everyday health and wellness challenges—aiming to reignite people’s ability to live without limitations from complex ailments, diseases or societal conditions.
He is adamant in his belief that nothing is impossible through the power of collaboration and innovation. “Our sole purpose is to help people,” he said. “We don’t have any preconceived lists of technologies that we have to use. We just come up with whatever technology is going to solve the problem.”
It all started one night at an art gallery opening. “My wife and I met a paralyzed graffiti artist and discovered that he had been lying in a bed, motionless, for years—talking through a piece of paper,” said Ebeling. “He had no computer-aided technology to communicate with his family and caretakers. For me, not [knowing anybody with this condition]… I thought it was ubiquitous that everyone had access to a Stephen Hawking machine. Learning that was not the case was offensive and kind of an absurdity.”
Ebeling made a promise to find a solution to this problem.
“We pulled together a bunch of mad scientists and programmers and engineers and hackers and makers… we crafted a low-cost solution with cheap sunglasses, a coat hanger, a web camera and some code, and created a device that allowed him to draw again using only his eyes,” explained Ebeling.
From then on, tackling the “absurdities” of health became his primary mission.
In this episode of HIMSS’s Innovation That Sticks podcast, we chat with Mick Ebeling and the Not Impossible team about innovating to solve seemingly impossible health challenges that empower individuals to live their lives without limitation. | Listen now
“We look at things from a unique perspective and without being restrained by things. We’re not afraid of ignorance, because ignorance—when claimed—is incredibly empowering,” said Ebeling. “You then seek to fill that gap and fill that emptiness with knowledge, information and new approaches.”
Disruptive technology can’t disrupt if it doesn’t inspire any actual change—only people can do that. And getting people to change their habits, mindsets and motivations may be the biggest health challenge of them all.
A study conducted by JMIR Mhealth and Uhealth aimed to uncover the effectiveness of behavior change apps. Among the 344 apps they studied, researchers determined a low to moderate number of behavior change techniques were incorporated into the content of each app. Above all, the study identified a strong opportunity for improvement in design, including the further incorporation of more impactful behavior change techniques, like self-monitoring. As more behavior change apps evolve, people can be empowered to disrupt unhealthy behaviors and improve their overall health and wellness.
Some disruptive technologies leverage the power of behavioral economics, like Wellth, an app that utilizes gamification to encourage medication adherence. A third party, such as an employer, contributes a certain amount of money to the individual through the app—which employees get to keep if they adhere to their treatment plan. If noncompliance occurs, the amount of cash begins dwindling.
HIMSS TV spoke with Neha Gavai, head of business development at Wellth, about how their apps employ various behavioral economics strategies to help engage patients so they can achieve optimal outcomes.
“We have been trying to figure out when we talk to the patient, how can we use more of these motivational interviewing type strategies where we really understand what the patient’s going through,” said Gavai. “[And] we can effectively target the patient activation in order to get them to engage in their healthcare—by understanding what they’re going through, and really being strategic in terms of how they approach them.”
By leveraging innovative concepts like behavioral economics in new technologies, such innovations can truly be life-changing.
HIMSS hosts multiple developer challenges per year—many of them calling for the creation of disruptive technologies focused on social determinants of health and breaking down the barriers associated with them.
A winning solution that evolved from a HIMSS developer challenge focused on infant mortality was a voice-activated virtual assistant called Stress Management Intervention Life Essentials (SMILE). Acknowledging the role that stress can contribute to premature birth, SMILE provides stress management techniques and perinatal educations for expectant mothers.
“To begin addressing these complex issues, through the Battle for Our Babies initiative, we envisioned a digital assistant that offers stress management skills for use among underserved perinatal women and infants,” the winning team wrote. “Building upon the initial design, future iterations will utilize artificial intelligence to refine and tailor stress management content and provide parenting skills within the context of everyday life.”
Another disruptive technology born out of a HIMSS developer challenge focused on health equity: MotiSpark, a solution that incorporates evidence-based behavioral science techniques with personalized video content and social media to reinforce healthy coping strategies. Its creator, co-founder and CEO, Ariel McNichol Langer, leveraged her background in behavioral science and user experience, as well as her own experience being part of a Latinx family and community in Los Angeles, to bring the solution to life. The powerful platform aims to influence positive change at the community level and beyond.
“It’s a ball of fire most grown-ups can’t realistically manage for their children,” said Langer. “It’s the responsibility of designers to intervene in this landscape with behavioral health interventions that help children and are aware of the visual priming they receive.”
Ultimately, these stories show us that the promise and potential of all disruptive technology is empowered by people: the creators, the users, the consumers—and everyone between. Through strategic collaboration, powerful, life-changing innovations empower people to tackle even the most complex health challenges—disrupting what we believe to be impossible.
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