Fast forward

Next: looking beyond the device in digital health

Observers of the digital health ecosystem seem addicted to the idea that it is accretive when in truth it is commutative.

News of the demise of sleep tracker Zeo, the closure of Google Reader through which many of us have reviewed health news, and the imminent  withdrawal of the best (IMO) version of the popular Twitter client through which innumerable health tweet chats have been conducted should hopefully serve to remind us of the transitory nature of digital environments.

Personal health data is certainly going to continue to be collected. It will be at the centre of our genome-informed, personalised medical future.

Whilst it is easy to get distracted by news of the latest smartphone health peripherals, it is becoming obvious that we aren’t going to be collecting health data ourselves via a panoply of trackers, gadgets, wristbands and glasses indefinitely.

We no more want external health peripherals than we do a keyboard for a tablet computer.

They are extraneous, inconvenient, and will only be used by health hobbyists.

Nor are we ultimately going to want to see that data collected by a smartphone-like device. Mobile devices, whether carried, or viewed via a HUD contact lens, or placed on the back of our hand as a removable skin-like overlay, may be a great way of reviewing data, but in the last instance we don’t want integrated onboard sensors tracking our data for the sole reason that it requires us to remember or desire to continue to collect it, even if the process is passive.

This needn’t mean a Matrix-like plug of course, but rather a sensor of whatever sort that merely gathers data.

However, not everyone wants to be a cyborg, nor will it be necessary to be one in order to enjoy the long terms health benefits of fully quantifying (and adapting) our health behaviours.

Assuming that we don’t all succumb to the beguiling technological singularitythe paradigm will be inverted and the social face of health will be human rather than a mimetic poly-alloy.

The future of quantified health will reside in NIAP (non-invasive, all-pervasive) sensors that will become as ubiquitous and cheap to use as the bar code, incorporated not only into public spaces but also into products and packaging. Aggregated personal data is Big Data by any other name, and will facilitate the study of health trends and behaviours at a population level. Privacy will become a profile setting, but the anonymised (we hope) collection of health data will be undertaken regardless.

This may sound like science fiction.

However, aspects of the transformation of  digital health into a non-invasive sensor-facilitated model are just a few steps down its evolutionary pathway.

So let’s look beyond the device-driven quantified self.

We’re not still discussing what happened to our Walkman, pocket calculator PDA, diary, Filofax, digital camera, and so on, and nor do we need to talk about how everything that can be integrated into mobile devices will be, because we already know it’s going to happen.

There are more interesting questions to ask of the future of digital health, such as:

  • What will ‘digital health beyond the device’ look like?
  • Could the existing paradigm of healthcare delivery be disintermediated altogether by digital health beyond the device?
  • What role will healthcare professionals play in a digital health future which affords the patient the opportunity to access an artificial intelligence that can scan the patient, consult the totality of the existing medical evidence, make a diagnosis, print a drug, or even undertake a surgical procedure within the patient’s own home?
  • Will the medical facility of the future be: your home?
  • Will the most important thing in digital health beyond the device be that which health systems are driving out through ‘efficiencies’, namely: the irreproducible power of human interaction, support, touch, care and love?

Let’s start talking about questions like these instead.

They’re more interesting.

They’re more challenging.

They’re likely to happen sooner than we can imagine.

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6 thoughts on “Next: looking beyond the device in digital health

  1. Hi, Andrew. We agree. The point of the HAPIfork is that it’s non-invasive. Just a substitute fork. Now your fork collects data AND warns you when you’re eating too fast, which is a contributing issue for both acid reflux and satiety. (After taking a very small bite today at lunch, the fork ‘went off’ and I thought “No-Wait! Wait! My first bite was really small! I still have room in my mouth!… Oh…” :) – Jessica Margolin

  2. I feel one reason there is such a huge disconnect is that nearly everyone in health tech is a white 20 something male or elderly male doc and yet nearly all primary care givers are women in the prime of their life with vastly different goals and values.. What app will sit with their mom as she struggles with her arthritis or walk her dad as he recovers from hip surgery? Who will schedule all of the doctor visits at a time she can get off work?

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