Mobile phone technology, the Internet and simple sensor technology have coalesced to create a new industry: digital health. The results are still out, but digital health has the potential to drive healthcare costs down and make us healthier at the same time. Sitting square in the middle of this revolution is the consumer — who, in order to make things work, will need to step up and start measuring and analyzing their own health. The technologies that are emerging are super-exciting, but it’s going to take a sea change in attitude to make patients (and their doctors) get involved in self care.
This January, at the Digital Health Summit at International CES, the digital health industry makes it abundantly clear that patients can help prevent, detect, and treat their ailments with a new breed of digital devices. The lineup of speakers making the pilgrimage to fly the digital health flag: Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Arianna Huffington (yes, that Arianna), Deepak Chopra, and Dr. Reed V. Tuckson (Executive Vice President and Chief of Medical Affairs for UnitedHealth Group), are just a few of the flag carriers as digital meets medical.
The products and services on display offer a mind-boggling look at the degree to which we’ll be the keepers and lenders of our digital health information. One of the most obvious signs of the monitored life is the variety of fitness devices providing constant feedback. Wearing a Fitbit or BodyMedia band has become something of a geek-health status symbol. Bracelets like Jawbone’s UP, and the latest, Basis, are self-monitoring jewelry. MisFit Wearables are making it on the scene — unobtrusive, but fashionable body monitoring.
Entire ecosystems of “things” collect data: heart rate, steps traveled, location, sweat, sleep quality. Next it’s analyzed for quality. A person can now track the minutia of their daily lives — REM sleep, caloric intake, heart rate achieved. Ant+’s low-power consumption devices offer solutions for monitoring just about any physical sport and body function. Vancive Medical Technologies (formerly Avery Dennison Medical Solutions) will be showcasing a strip the thickness of a band aid with sensing chips built in. As sensors shrink in size we’ll see the move to invisible/passive monitoring and data collections from every part of our being – not just while we exercise, but 24/7.
It doesn’t stop with body functions. Companies like Brain Resource, InteraXon and NeuroSky show that we’re about to start measuring and harnessing our brain’s energy to control everything from depression to cancer to a cursor on your screen. And in a moment of sweet irony, companies like HeartMath are using technology to help us monitor and manage stress (stress undoubtedly produced by these devices).
A study in contrasts, the digital health arena is both personal and “big data” at the same time. Forty four million health apps will be downloaded this year, many measuring where we go and what we do. When all of the user data is aggregated together, we get a “larger picture” – hundreds of thousands of incidences that can ultimately help disease prevention, detection and treatment. Companies like Opera Solutions collect medical data and turn it into useful information for the profession. Others like Sharecare and Everyday Health present consumers with free tracking apps and storage for their personal health data. Spoiler alert? In exchange for being the personal health file cabinet, these portals will provide a huge window into how people are interacting with health data.
Another high interest area is disease management. Today, chronic disease management consumes 75 cents of each dollar spent on healthcare with obesity, heart disease and diabetes making up a lion’s share of chronic healthcare management. Companies, including Omron Healthcare, IDEAL LIFE, GrandCare Systems, Qualcomm Life and Independa, will showcase solutions to monitoring everything from medications to blood glucose levels, to breathing strength and brain agility. Moved into the home on tablets, laptops and phones, these companies become “the doctor in your home” monitoring your vitals and alerting caregivers and physicians to any anomalies. But aging in place, as the idea of growing older at home is called, is not only benevolent. Companies like Optum are using data collected to help shorten hospital stays and re-admissions, and to help adherence to medical regimes. The cost of non-adherence to regimes alone costs billions of dollars each year.
The monitored life, often called the quantified self by some of its biggest pundits, is about this constant state of awareness of your body’s many functions and using that information to make informed decisions about keeping the body tuned. It makes sense, considering that today you probably have more gauges giving you information about your car’s health than your own body’s. Of course, there’s a fine line between monitoring and over-monitoring, usage and obsession. Guaranteed we’ll be exploring that line at the Digital Health Summit.
Robin Raskin is founder of Living in Digital Times (LIDT), a team of technophiles who bring together top experts and the latest innovations that intersect lifestyle and technology. LIDT produces conferences and expos at CES and throughout the year focusing on how technology enhances every aspect of our lives through the eyes of today’s digital consumer.
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