Cheaper, faster, better technology is enabling nearly one in four people around the world to connect with each other anytime, anywhere, as online social networks have changed the way we live, work and play. In healthcare, the data generated by mobilephones and sensors can give us new information about ourselves, extend the reach of our healers and help to accelerate a societal shift towards greater personal engagement in healthcare.
Mobile, Gamification and Sensors
Mobile is increasingly ubiquitous: With 6.8 billion mobile subscriptions, access anytime, anywhere through smart gadgets is now putting cheap and connected, mobile computing power in the hands of millions of consumers and healthcare practitioners.
Gaming is popular too: 121.3 million Americans (Figure 1) play mobile games at least occasionally. Now health apps are using games to improve health and wellness. Gaming elements are bringing deeper engagement, to improve compliance and make managing chronic conditions and complicated regimens easier.
Mobile sensors — accelerometers, location detection, wireless connectivity and cameras-offer another big step towards closing the feedback loop in personalized medicine.
There is no more personal data than on-the-body or in-the-body sensors. Sensors used to be exclusive to the laboratory (polysomnography) or hospital (EEG, EKG). Now, body area network applications can be used not only for fitness/wellness, but also to identify, diagnose and manage acute and chronic disease.
Online social networks (like Facebook, Twitter, and other social media apps), which offer peer-to-peer support, are another useful tool enabling this societal shift in healthcare. Nearly a quarter, 23%, of people with chronic illnesses, go online to find others with related conditions.
We see online social tools as a means to gather motivation and support health-related activities, similar in concept to Weight Watchers and Alcoholics Anonymous. As we all know, changing routines is hard. For some of us, adding the support of online social networks may help nudge our behaviors in a more positive direction.
Bigger Picture: Who Cares and Why?
In terms of Big Data, mobile health is a new frontier, contributing new streams of data such as behavioral, biometric, and environmental in real time. Combining these new data streams with EMR/ EHR data and giving patients/consumers access may enable us to make better-informed decisions and lead healthier lifestyles.
Mobile is extending the reach of our healers: healthcare providers, fitness coaches, and other supporters. Providers are in desperate need of better educational tools to improve efficiency and lower costs. Physical therapists, fitness coaches, home aides, occupational therapists, discharge planners, doctors, nurses, public health and other health educators are all interested in employing new ways to help patients understand their diseases and take better care of themselves.
The rapid adoption of connected mobile devices is enabling the shift from a sickcare nation to a preventative care nation – with big potential savings at stake. I believe health insurers before long will cut premiums for consumers who exercise and have a healthy diet, just as they discount auto insurance rate for safe drivers.
This monumental shift in the way Americans approach health care comes just in the nick of time: as a nation, we badly need a kick in the behind. More than two-thirds of American adults are now overweight or obese. According to one forecast, by 2020 more than half of us will be pre-diabetic or diabetic, creating a $500 billion annual drag on the economy.
But solutions are coming. And it starts with your mobile phone.
Apps And Wearables
Let’s take a closer look at the front lines of this coming consumer health revolution.
By 2017, according to Research and Markets, half of the 3.4 billion smartphone or tablet users worldwide will use mobile health apps.I expect that by 2017, at least 30% of American consumers will regularly wear a device to track sleep, food, exercise, heart rate, blood pressure and even glucose passively and non-invasively.By 2017, according to ABI, the global market for wearables in health and fitness alone could reach 170 million devices.
Personalized and Mobile Medicine
Before long, all of those devices will be sending real-time data about you to your doctors, nutritionists and trainers. Subjective medical findings will be bolstered by cold, hard stats on the continuous state of your health. In short, we’re headed for a world of truly personalized medicine, practiced from a central hub in the cloud.
In the not-to-distant future, we will talk to our doctors more often via a mobile phone than in an office, saving time for patients and doctors alike. The result will be a more efficient system: By some estimates, 25-30% of today’s doctor visits could be replaced by phone, text, and digital check-ins.
Gamification will saturate fitness apps and devices, enticing teams of friends or coworkers to compete for points or trophies. You are seeing the beginnings of this movement on Fitocracy and at corporations like Yahoo, where CEO Marissa Mayer challenged her employees to a contest for the most miles walked. Strava members are addicted to getting to the top of the leaderboard for cycling and running and are willing to pay a monthly subscription to compete.
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