For the majority of medical history, people were little more than passive recipients of advice from professionals.Today, not only are people empowered to take control of their own health and make smart choices, they’re also taking advantage of leaps in mobile and sensor technologies in order to help them lead healthier and happier lives.
In only a few short years, a wealth of personal health devices and apps have appeared that monitor everything from our heart rate, to sleeping pattern, calorie intake and stress level. While it’s exciting to witness the swift development and consumer interest in these devices, early adopters of health technologies tend to be fitness enthusiasts; the real benefit will lie in reaching those with less healthy lifestyles.
The World Health Organization expects the number of non-communicable diseases to increase from 36 million in 2008 to 55 million in 2030 unless action is taken. The difference that digital health programs, wearable monitors and fitness trackers could make to the lives of people managing chronic conditions could be staggering. Illnesses such as diabetes, heart disease, and other conditions related to unhealthy diet, inactivity and the harmful use of alcohol could be alleviated or avoided entirely, ultimately reducing the cost and pressure on the health system as a whole.
In order to reach this tipping point, these devices must be able to collaborate seamlessly, not only with our medical professionals, hospitals and pharmacies, but also with insurance companies. While our doctors will be able to prescribe a digital health program, download the data from our devices and provide valid, medically meaningful advice, our insurance companies should also be connected, so that people can be reimbursed for getting healthier.
In order for all of the above goals to be achieved, however, our technologies must advance yet further. Health relates to our mental, physical and even our social functioning and is no simple thing to measure. When you consider all the factors involved, from our genetic predisposition and environmental conditions to the individual lifestyle choices, measuring only one aspect – say, calorie intake – makes little sense. In order for our health devices to offer up useful data that could make a real difference, wearables will need to be multi-functional. Few consumers will be prepared to wear half a dozen devices, each measuring a separate function. All of these technologies will need to be combined into a single wearable that tracks many things at the same time.