The New Scientist editorial ‘One size fits all? Tackling the big challenges in public health takes unity’ published on 21 March adds another column millimetre to our understanding of the value of wearable health technology and its potential for reshaping health.
Enabling patients and citizens to have more control, such technology and the data it produces have the power to improve health, transform quality and reduce the cost of health and care services.
Technology also has the potential to help address economic inequality and health disparities.
Whilst the most expensive Apple smartwatch will be out of the price range of everyday folks, smartphones are ubiquitous amongst all demographics, so apps, as one example, provide a personal and meaningful way to address critical public health issues, such as obesity.
A stroll around the ‘Health Tech & You’ exhibition at London’s Design Museum (in partnership with AXA PPP healthcare and 2020health), brings to life the possibilities. The exhibition is profiled as a ‘global showcase of over 20 new personal health technology devices, ideas and research’.
There’s a real range of health tech on display.
Brush DJ is an app that plays two minutes of music from your phone’s music library to ensure that you brush your teeth for the recommended amount of time. When you understand that gum disease is linked to stroke, heart disease and diabetes, a two minute dance at the bathroom basin every morning and evening is time well spent.
The hard hitters – those devices that have high potential to prevent expensive hospital admissions, or alert on potential disease relapses – if proven through robust data and testing, may cut through a myriad of health inequality issues linked to remoteness of location, access to services, time delays to provide efficient health care.
Examples include EyKOS – a device that measures an increase in bacteria in the lungs and sends alerts if necessary to healthcare professionals through a smartphone app; potentially lifesaving when used in elderly and COPD patients.
Or Aware – a wristband worn by people with bipolar disorder that collects information on sleep cycles and uses this information to predict the likelihood of an episode. All you need is education, smartphones and in some cases access to the internet.
Not all of the technologies are online and involve programming. Some are physical. The BRUISE suit is an outfit made of pressure sensitive film that changes colour on impact, visually flagging any injuries to those who might not feel it (paraplegic athletes who have reduced sensation) or who are unable to communicate it (dementia patients).
The entire contents of the ‘Health Tech & You’ exhibition could probably fit into my handbag; being so lightweight and small. They are also intuitive. And that’s exactly the point, these innovations have been developed by designers and programmers with everyday people and patient ‘end users’ in mind; developers have thought long and hard about addressing challenges in novel ways harnessing technology, data and instinct.
Adoption by health systems and social care providers is key. The job of the NHS’ National Information Board (NIB) is to put data and technology safely to work for patients, service users, citizens and the caring professionals who serve them, to help ensure that health and care in the UK is improving and sustainable.
One key barrier to adoption amongst public sector commissioners and providers is the need to accelerate a national approach to the accreditation and kitemarking of apps, devices and digital services. NIB plans to publish proposals by June 2015 and kitemaking of apps will begin by the end of the year. Kitemarked services will be able to use the NHS brand and to be accessible through NHS Choices.
The small but perfectly formed exhibition runs until 26 April and explores a range of technologies – from resources helping those who want to conceive having the best chance of doing so naturally (DuoFertility), to therapeutic tools for children with autism and people rehabilitating after a stroke (Light Scopes). It’s well worth a visit.