Could Wearable Technologies Lead Us to Better Health

Could Wearable Technologies Lead Us to Better Health

fIn The Future of Wearable Tech, iQ by Intel and PSFK Labs explore the evolving form and function of our Internet-connected devices. This series, based on a recent report, looks at the rise of wearable technologies and their impact on consumer lifestyles.  

A physician’s bedside manner, their greeting and treating of patients, profoundly impacts the outcome according to research, which shows doctor-patient conversation heavily impacts a patient’s recovery.

While some see technology as an intruder in this doctor-patient relationship, it’s evident that more of us are using personal devices to collect and analyze data about our well being, and soon this might actually help doctors provide more personalized care. 

“Although a personal wearable device is certainly a trend, it does not necessarily replace good old fashioned face-to-face meetings. We see it [information from personal devices] as a way to augment care,” said Nick Martin to this point, who is VP in the innovation and research group, UnitedHealth Group Inc.

Looking at the increasing use of smartphone and tablet health management apps and the rise of of wearable technologies that track biometrics, we seem ready to move beyond simply recording diet and fitness related data to actually putting that wellness data to good use, whether that means sharing it in real time with medical experts, physicians or loved ones.

In what could be called “Data-Streamed Care,” this notion represents a major shift in how mobile computing, and its always-on nature, could ultimately lead to more personalized healthcare.

“As more information steadily becomes available to patients, empowerment can become overwhelming. In [the new] model, the stakeholder-patient relationship resembles more of a personal health sherpa guiding an explorer to a better level of health,” said Shayne Woods, President of FwdHealth, Inc.

Let’s bring that Himalayan metaphor down to sea level.

The wave of social and personal-related data can be overwhelming, especially if you consider the amount of bio-rhythmic data one person can generate each and every day tracking such things as heart rate, steps taken and quality of sleep. The explosion in these health tracking devices has meant that people can continuously capture pulse, body temperature and a variety of activity metrics like miles run, meters swum or calories consumed at each meal. All of this quantified data can paint a well-rounded picture of person’s well-being.

Just as retailers and researchers are able to evaluate consumer behavior data on sites like Facebook and Amazon, couldn’t health professionals access highly relevant health data to provide customized care?

Looking ahead, health coaches and doctors might even prescribe real-time guidance or therapies that address a person’s specific need at a given moment. 

Imagine if your psychiatrist could see where and when you experience the greatest stress during the course of your day. They would be far better equipped to suggest changes in behavior and lifestyle than if they were solely reliant on your verbal account during office visits.

Imagine a pool of individuals suffering from the same chronic condition. Data about diet, exercise and changes in baseline physiological state could stream to a common forum where physicians and researchers might scope out patterns and potential entry points for improving health outcomes.

Sharing with doctors and caregivers your health-related information collected by personal wearable device is something that will first require willingness, but even more there will need to be a strong sense of control and security over that data.

If the sensor on your right molar alerts your dentist about a sudden spike of Streptococcus mutans, the bacteria that causes tooth decay, and it prompts you to do a just-in-time cleaning that prevents a cavity, then you might feel well served. But what if that same sensor detects that you are not burshing your teeth regularly or you began smoking cigarettes and it informs your insurance provider, which suddenly bumps up your monthly premiums?

In a recent study by the Centre for Creative and Social Technology at Goldsmiths, one in three survey respondents from the UK and US said they would be willing to use a wearable health and fitness monitor that shares personal data with the government’s health agency or a healthcare provider. However, as these devices get smarter and capture increasingly more intimate and accurate data about our state of health, tech manufacturers and consumers will need to reconcile who is entitled to see that information. Appropriate use of this intimate, personal data will need to be agreed upon up front.

So far, the first forays into this particular dimension of wearable, data streaming technology are testing the waters. They hold potential for lower-cost, preventative type health interventions that look and feel highly relevant to the person generating the data.

Call them daring or careless, but a growing number of people seem willing to push these new limits, hoping it will revolutionize the way we take of and receive care for our health.


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