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Sunday, 28 May 2017

How Technology Helps To Increase Health Measure Monitoring

People are measuring their heart rates, calories burned, steps walked, blood pressure, blood sugar and even exotic measures like brain waves and sleep cycles. (JOSEPH BRANSTON/FUTURE PUBLISHING VIA GETTY IMAGES)

You don't have to look very far nowadays to see someone peering at their Apple watch, consulting their smartphone to access a health app or jogging while wearing an around-the-chest heart rate monitor. The Information Age has yielded a number of cataclysmic eruptions that have disrupted the status quo. GPS, social media and digital recording have all decimated entire industries, now replaced with new technologies, new industries and new opportunities. I believe that we are witnessing a similar disruptive wave with the proliferation of health measure monitoring. People are measuring their heart rates, calories burned, steps walked, blood pressure, blood sugar and even exotic measures like brain waves and sleep cycles.

But is this just some high-tech form of navel gazing, or do real health insights emerge from such activities? After all, that Apple Watch didn't come cheap.

I believe that the proliferation of such monitoring and information devices is really just the tip of an iceberg, an iceberg that looms so large that it has the potential to sink the Titanic of conventional health. Measures previously performed in doctors' offices and hospitals can now be performed in your kitchen or living room. Information previously available only through the arcane medical literature is now available with a few mouse clicks, making the new clinical study read by your gynecologist, neurologist or gastroenterologist available to you to read over coffee.

From the comfort of my kitchen, I've plugged a tiny device (Dario) into my smartphone that measured my blood sugar. This allows me to assess the blood sugar consequences of eating various foods, which then leads me to reduce or eliminate foods that raise blood sugar. I've measured my body fat percentage and pulse wave velocity (Withings Body Cardio), indexes of cardiovascular health. I've stuck my finger to measure blood ketones that reflect fat metabolism (Abbot Freestyle Optium), a means of gauging whether I've sufficiently curtailed carbohydrates and sugars in my diet.

American health is not necessarily in a good state of health today, is it? Americans are among the most overweight of any population on this planet. We have among the highest proportion of Type 2 diabetics, people with heart disease and autoimmune conditions. We pay crippling health care insurance premiums, endure unsatisfying health care interactions and pay the most of any nation on earth for our health care system, now consuming an unprecedented 17.5 percent of gross domestic product. Can individual interest in health measurement bring us any closer to real health, enough to reduce the burden of disease and make a dent in the runaway costs of modern health care?

I believe they can. Being able to measure various health phenomena – on our own, outside of the medical system – is revolutionary. But what this really provides are values that we can track over time and identify ways to improve such measures. It's as if we previously drove on roads with no idea where we were heading, but we are now equipped with a roadmap and know precisely where we are – or, more aptly in our age, equipped with a GPS device that informs us where we are, how to get to our destination and how long it will take to get there.

The ability to self-track health measures will change how we manage health conditions. Monitor blood pressure – something you can now achieve with a smartphone-assisted self-inflating device (Withings Wireless Blood Pressure Monitor) – and you can identify the triggers of high blood pressure in your day, the times of day pressure rises and the effects of various foods. Track body fat percentage (Qardio Base Wireless Smart Scale), and you can tell whether your strength training program is building muscle or reducing fat. I wear a headset that monitors my brain waves for feedback on the effectiveness of meditation by providing visual and auditory feedback (Muse), a technique useful for reducing blood pressure and stress. I also use an app called BreatheSync, based on the technology of heart rate variability, to reduce anxiety and stress or prepare for sleep. By tracking blood sugars, you can modify your diet to keep blood sugars in check, an exceptionally effective way to not develop Type 2 diabetes, as well as reduce reliance on blood sugar-reducing medication and even achieve substantial weight loss. There are rumors that the Apple Watch may even continuously monitor blood sugar through the skin – if true, this would be a game-changer, though undoubtedly one game-changer among a flood of many more to come.

Though doctors have been slow to adopt such devices, patients are readily embracing technology to help them deal with various conditions. Asthmatics can attach a device to their inhalers (Propeller) that identifies triggers, resulting in as much as a two-thirds reduction in asthma attacks. People struggling with anxiety can track their emotional state (Mindfield eSense Skin Response) and apply biofeedback strategies to reduce reliance on medication. Parents can apply a monitor to their infant's chest that wirelessly transmits real-time temperature (TempTraq Wearable Smart Thermometer) while their child sleeps, generating an alert when a fever develops or temperature increases, while a baby's blood oxygen level can be monitored with a sock (Owlet Smart Sock Baby Monitor) that alarms with a drop in oxygen that precedes sudden infant death syndrome. People with Parkinson's disease can wear a wrist and ankle monitor that tracks tremor and mobility, changes that can be correlated to treatment (Kinesia 360).

In addition to health tracking devices, home health testing is becoming a real force. Consumers can have their bowel flora, the collection of microorganisms inhabiting the intestinal tract, assessed (Ubiome), tracked over time to gauge whether an intervention (e.g., probiotic supplement, fermented foods) is yielding benefit. A sample of saliva can yield insight into genetic risk for various diseases, as well as allow you to explore your ancestry, including how much Neanderthal genetics you carry (23andMe). A fingerstick blood sample can yield measures to assess thyroid status, hormone levels and vitamin D, while urine can be submitted to assess your status of neurotransmitters and heavy metals like mercury and cadmium (ZRT Laboratory).

Importantly, there is another aspect to the widespread adoption of such health tracking and home testing: they put tracking measures into the hands of the "crowd." In other words, if thousands of people have the ability to track an important health measure, unique observations will inevitably emerge that bring people closer to health solutions. A sufferer with Parkinson's disease in Boise, Idaho, for example, might serendipitously observe that a prescription drug or nutritional supplement started for an unrelated purpose yielded reductions in the tremor and incoordination of his condition, share his experience with other Parkinson sufferers on social media which, in turn, prompts several dozen or hundreds of others in New York, Dallas, Miami and elsewhere to test the idea. Many potential strategies will fail, but some will also succeed, then proliferate in use through the collaboration of social media and various online health platforms.

Future health solutions are therefore not just going to arise from expensive, long-term medical research conducted in universities. They are going to come from crowd-sourced observations because we – not just doctors, hospitals or universities – now have tools to track health measures. I predict that we are going to witness new and unexpected solutions to reduce common measures such as blood sugar and blood pressure, new ways to restore healthy bowel flora, new ways to reduce asthma attacks or avert the tragedy of sudden infant death.

Just as smartphones have changed how we communicate, self-driving cars will transform how we travel and drone delivery will change how we shop, so will new consumer health tools transform health and health care. You no longer use an impossible-to-fold paper map or handwritten instructions to find your way. You will likewise no longer subscribe to conventional, paternalistic "I'm the doctor, you're the patient, just do what I tell you" advice from the doctor or medical system. Instead, you may find your health answers on your smartphone, a device applied in your kitchen or a conversation on social media. Health is going to improve one observation at a time. But, multiplied by the millions of people engaged in the process, I predict that answers will soon be coming at us at breakneck speed, yielding an unprecedented flood of solutions in health.

Source : U.S. News
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