Interview with Kishan Kariippanon

I recently had a chance to talk with Dr. Kishan Kariippanon. Kishan is a man of many hats: the founder of Youth Health 2.0, PHD candidate at Menzies School of Health Research, and advocate for all things social media and health promotion.

I want to make a difference in the world. I trained in pediatric medicine and public health and am now pursuing my doctoral studies in East Arnhem Land. My goal is to find simple technology-based solutions for everyday challenges that slow the progress of youth health in the under served population.

How does a doctor become interested in mobile technology and public health? Why is this an issue you are passionate about? How did you get here?

As doctors we are always looking for solutions and different perspectives on issues that affect public health. My area of interest in public health is communications and by 2009, mobile phones were already making a dent in the developing world. Simple banking transactions were being made through mobile phones and I wondered if healthcare could redesign its services to reach the under-served population faster and at a fraction of the cost.

I was inspired by the work of Dr. Muhajir and Sir Dr. Naraqi,  who were both humanitarian doctors in Indonesia and Papua New Guinea. They worked tirelessly, even if they had to walk to a village 3 days away to see just one patient, they did it.

My dream is to be able to connect people living in remote locations and in the developing world, to health services with the help of technology. There are many doctors like Dr. Muhajir and Dr. Naraqi who, with access to these technologies, would to be able to save more lives.

My travels, my work as a doctor and volunteering across countries like Indonesia, Timor Leste,  India, former countries of the Soviet Union, and particularly my 4 years in Siberia, has brought me to where I am today and what I plan to do with my life.

You are currently completing a PHD in indigenous health and communications technology. What are you investigating right now?

I am stying study the use of mobile technology by young people in a remote community in order to find a sustainable way forward for health communications.

The answers that I am looking for in my research will help shape policy and program design in social marketing and youth health engagement in resource poor settings i.e. remote communities.
In your TedxDarwin talk – Bringing ‘The Egypt to Indigenous Youth Health’ – you said something that really intrigued me: “Social media functions like a traditional indigenous community.” Can you expand on this?

I still find this statement fascinating as I unpack and draw parallels between what the developed world has been reconstructing in the last 10 years in the form of social media and what already has and still exists in Aboriginal culture.

Aboriginal people and indeed Indigenous communities across the world are constantly creating content and sharing it, and in many instances this content is shared across continents. This concept of user generated content, sharing, mashups and making connections was the bedrock of Indigenous life. In the world before social media and the Internet it was considered bad business to share knowledge and information for free. But in Indigenous life, it was the norm, it was the only way to live and to prosper.

At Deloitte Centre for Edge Australia, one of our roles is to map disruptive innovation that is happening across Australia and the world. One edge that I have been curious about the multitude of ways big data is transforming health. Why is this availability of data transforming health?

Big data can be very useful in transforming healthcare because of its statistical significance and to some extent – accuracy. However, without the correct interpretation of context and the use of qualitative data we will once again strip the data of its humanness.

Applying ‘mindfulness’ to an individuals health and wellbeing and having the data to share with your physician will become a norm in the years to come. The Quantified Self movement coupled with the advancement in self tracking technology will empower patients to seek out and find physicians who are ready and willing to collaborate with their patients on their care plan.

What we need to disrupt is this practice of medicine that holds on to a prescriptive methods of treatment instead of collaborative, relying only on lab tests instead of experimenting with self tracking tools.

I know you are a big fan of BJ Fogg – Stanford’s Director of Persuasive Technology Lab at Stanford University. For readers who are not familiar with his work, could you explain what persuasive technology is and its significant? How does it inform your work?

Dr. Fogg’s work is focused on behavior change through the use of mobile technology (Fogg Behavior Model). Making a behavior easy to do is much more effective than motivating people to change their behavior. Through the use of mobile technology, we can trigger users to take small baby steps. These triggers can be automated to function uniquely with individual users based on their context and preferences.

This is a game changer because many organizations and governments continue to pour funds into motivating people to get a health check, or to eat healthy, but what they don’t address are the barriers that make the intended behavior hard to perform.

In my work, I use the Fogg Behavior Model to create short video messages that are easy to ‘share’ via Bluetooth. It doesn’t cost anything because you don’t have to stream it from the internet and you don’t need to have credit which is usually the challenge for young people in remote communities.

This has been done before but the videos were too long because the focus was not on ‘sharing’ or peer to peer recommendation, which is an aspect of behavior design. Rather the goal was to watch 5 minutes of footage to ‘motivate’ behavior change. Consequently it was too large a file to Bluetooth, and uptake was not significant.

Innovators are really good at seeing potential and future scenarios that have yet come into being. What is the future that you see? What is the mind-blowing for you?

The future that I see for health communication is in collaborative gaming and learning healthy behaviors through gamification. I can see a future where young people want to be involved in improving their own health and the health of their community through a game like experience with corporate social responsibility thrown into the mix as supporters/sponsors.

What hard questions are you asking right now about mobile tech and public health? What are the obstacles that exist atm?

The hard question is; what is the social life of mobile technology and how are young people in East Arnhem Land defining its role in their life. Having lost their confidence in the health care system of today are the young people willing to give mHealth a chance?

Living in a remote community with poor internet connectivity and high cost of travel does slow down certain aspects of my work. My current obstacle is to bring the technologists to the problem and the funders to support the trials and projects until we find something that works. The current funding model and structure is anti startup and is too slow and rigid.
Any particular health technology thought leaders that you recommend checking out? Any good places where readers can learn more?

I heard Jamie Heywood speak in Boston recently and I consider him to be one of the best health technology thought leaders of today. He should head up a health research institution in Australia. Also do read anything you can find on “Patients Like Me”.

Further reading and references:

TedxDarwin Talk 

Youth Health

BJ Fogg – Stanford Persuasion Labs



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