When it comes to health and wearable technologies, most people are only familiar with fitness tracking armbands, but counting steps is just the tip of a fast-approaching iceberg.
In the not-so-distant future, wearable technology and big data will completely revolutionize our approach to health care, according to Tom Emrich, founder of the Toronto-based wearable technology meet-up and advocacy group, “We Are Wearables”.
“It goes back to the old adage, ‘if you know better, you can be better,” he said. “We as individuals know a lot more about the machines around us than we know about the machines that we are — in fact, we forget that we are machines — our biological selves are last on the priority list, and that’s because we’ve given up all of the responsibility to our healthcare providers because we didn’t have the tools.”
According to Emrich, wearable technology, connected device and big data innovations are democratizing our approach to health care, providing the tools to analyze, diagnose and eventually heal ourselves through the use of technologies that track our health.
“They represent the democratization of tools to allow for anybody who has access to them to gather data on themselves in order to know how well they are doing, health and fitness-wise, and in turn adjust their behaviours, lifestyle, medication, eating habits, etc., in order to lead a healthier life,” he said.
Patients today need to identify a health problem individually or see a healthcare professional for a regular checkup in order to identify a problem, get tested and receive medical care. Furthermore, medications and solutions are based on tests conducted with limited sample sizes, and are not tailored to the individual.
In a world filled with connected devices, however, changes in health can be detected at the moment they occur, sources of contamination like food and water supplies can be detected immediately, health care professionals can have access to patient information without conducting tests and solutions can be catered to the individual.
“We don’t have a language and we don’t have the data, so we’re just describing how we’re feeling, which is never the full story, and then we go and do tests, and it’s only through those tests that something is prescribed to us,” said Emrich. “Imagine that there is something in our toilet monitoring our urine, or a wearable measuring our heart rate, and that the doctor has a dashboard or some sort of program that provides an alert that says, ‘in the last three weeks this patient has had heart rate irregularity.”
The real potential of wearable technology, connected devices and big data, according to Emrich, is a world where individuals have more understanding and control over how their body operates, and one where healthcare professionals are alerted to any potential problems at the moment they occur, as opposed to the moment the test results are returned.
“I’m anxious to see how this all comes together, and furthermore how the healthcare organizations will be able to digest and leverage this,” he said. “It’s early days, but it’s exciting early days.”