With the rise in global healthcare costs and the general populace of major developing and developed countries leading fast paced lives, the attention to health becomes one of major importance. Technology is trying to make the healthcare sector more efficient and streamlined, specifically with mHealth and other related concepts. However, it still isn’t enough to bring about a holistic enhancement to healthcare as we see it.
The solutions in this regard can be envisioned in the form of the Quantified Self Movement. The driving force behind all that we do at Emberify, the QS movement can be tweaked so that its range extends to not just tracking fitness, sleep patterns or mood, but also minute health details and the general well being of people.
And that is the crux of my article here: how Self Tracking is getting serious in Medicine, and how it can improve Healthcare.
MHEALTH – A BRIEF OVERVIEW
Before I actually step into the concept of how Quantified Self can be used to improve general healthcare as far as medicine is concerned, let’s take a brief look at the term mHealth.
Mobile Healthcare, or mHealth, basically denotes the delivery, facilitation and communication of healthcare services over mobile devices such as PDAs, Smartphones, Tablets and other wireless infrastructures in general.
There are eight sectors which mHealth focuses upon: general monitoring, personal emergency response systems (PERS), telemedicine, mobile medical equipment, RFID tracking, health and fitness software, mobile messaging and electronic medical records. Using all these strategies in a comprehensive manner can lead to the delivery of quantifiable results.
Now this is a term we’ve been accustomed to quite a bit in recent times. Wearables are the in thing – be it in the form of smartwatches, glasses or smartbands. I’ve already spoken very extensively about wearables, but let’s focus on medical wearables for this particular article.
The above graph shows a history of the shipment of wearable computing devices worldwide, from 2013 to 2015. Healthcare wearables might not be as high up in rankings as sports/activity trackers, but they’re still there. And indeed, specialised wearables for tracking acute medical conditions and recording delicate parameters are becoming all the more important nowadays.
Which brings us to the total shipment of healthcare wearables. The graph below shows the figures for the years 2013 to 2015. The number of shipments are on a rise, which again proves my point of healthcare wearables becoming more relevant.
When we talk of healthcare wearables, we are not talking merely about sleep or fitness trackers. We are also talking about dedicated monitors which track bodily functions such as urine colour, blood pressure, insulin and blood sugar levels. Medical News Today estimates that in a few years’ time, there will be about 170 million wireless devices tracking personal health around the world.
A great example in this regard is the Withings Smart Body Analyser – which resembles your everyday weighing scale, but has a lot more functions associated with it. It tracks the weight of the person, BMI, Fat Mass, Heart Rate and even the quality of air surrounding the person. It syncs all this with the smartphone application, which brings a plethora of information to the user’s phone.
STRICTLY MEDICAL TRACKERS
When we talk about the parameters that are recorded by these specialised medical trackers, there are quite a few in this regard. Trackers can record anything from breathing, heart rate info, blood oxygen levels, blood pressure, ECG and the regular calorie burn and sleep cycle stats. Key examples include Libri by BlueLibris, BioHarness BT by Zephyr Technology and the Body Motion Patch.
One medical wearable which I found quite interesting was the Zoll LifeVest – a wearable defibrilator which monitors patients for cardiac arrest or other myocardial ailments. In cases of arrhythmia, where the patient’s heart is not beating at the normal rate, the LifeVest delivers a shock in order to restore the normal heart rhythm. The LifeVest would be excellent for people with a known history of heart disorders, and would reduce the chances of complications greatly.
Talk about wearable bands, and there’s the Basis B1: which detects heart rate, blood flow, sleep tracker, exertion tracker and a temperature sensor. More wearables with similar features include those from brands such as Misfit, Nike, and Fitbit.
POTENTIAL FOR THE FUTURE
For chronic medical conditions, wearables which are able to detect the ailments, sync the recordings to a smartphone application and send it to a medical practitioner for advice would be highly beneficial. The time lost in travelling to the doctor to get an ailment checked, or the loss of continuity which arises from recordings being taken at different time periods, would be thereby eliminated.
I believe that the concept of self tracking, aided with wearables, could enhance the healthcare sector in a quantified manner. The need of the hour is to improve upon the privacy of data, the conciseness and accuracy of the measurements and the openness of doctors and patients alike to adapt to these technologies.