For many of us, we see Apple as the pinnacle of consumer technology innovation. So when the iPhone 5S was launched, I was curious as to why the brochure highlighted a second processor, the M7 coprocessor, a ‘sidekick’ as Apple calls it, to the main A7 chip that runs most of the phone’s functions. Turns out this second chip was added specifically to measure motion data – it was marketed as a dedicated processor that will allow you to track physical activity, such as walking, running and even driving. All this points to the suggestion that Apple is paying attention to the quantified-self idea, and maybe wearable technology.
I find the notion of Apple having interest in quantified-self extremely exciting; imagine what they could come up with based on the simple act of measuring your daily life. Perhaps these are signs of the impending and possible iWatch – which I hope is a combination of the Pebble Watch and Nike+ FuelBand, how awesome would that be! But obviously they are keeping their lips sealed at the moment. At this point, I would like to say that I’m not an Apple Fanboy, but a mere tech geek who can’t wait to get his hands on the next exciting piece of technology.
I believe the rise of the quantified-self movement is a starting point to drive behaviour change, specifically health behaviour. Think about it, if your phone showed you that your heart rate goes up really high after walking up four flights of stairs, it’s actually telling you two things: 1) You don’t do this very often, 2) It’s probably time to start working on your stamina. With wearable technology connected so intimately, what it will do for us is very much like what the smartphone did for many of us – allowing us to take more control of our lives. Within seconds of pulling out your phone from your pocket, you’ll have charts, graphs and tables detailing how your body reacted to walking up those stairs.
Now imagine a world where everybody had wearable technology that constantly measure vitals, and this data was integrated with mobile technology where it can be transmitted to your doctor for monitoring. Regular health check ups would be deemed unnecessary and your doctor would only prompt you for a visit when your vital signs are showing something irregular. As a patient, having this data to hand may help you have a more informed discussion with your doctor and enable you to make decisions that improve your health. This ongoing tracking would be even more beneficial for patients with diseases that require constant monitoring, such as diabetes and atrial fibrillation, and conveniently it can be done from the comfort of their own homes. Just think about the huge potential wearable technology can offer to people with health conditions, and their communities.
Quantified data for all aspects of my health would be my utopia, but some people may see data privacy issues with this. On the NHS front, the yet-to-launch care.data programme aims to measure the quality and safety of services across the country, and highlights conditions that may require more attention, however there are concerns over the protection of sensitive medical records and worries about it being used for purposes other than what has been outlined – as reported in The Guardian last weekend. In my opinion, the trade-off for sharing information would be significantly improved care services for communities that have needs that are beyond the grasp of the current NHS.
So, to NW1er’s question, yes, I totally agree that we shouldn’t fear the use of data and technology to enable decision-making in health, but there should be processes in place to ensure data won’t be compromised, which may then instigate that sense of trust in people and will motivate their desire for a better informed world. I believe big data will take us to the next level, but more importantly what it means is the empowerment of consumers and patients to take charge and be more in control of their wellbeing.
I think the only other thing to do now is to safeguard this new wave of wearable tech from falling into the perception of social ineptitude that the Bluetooth earpiece fell into several years ago. The problem is, even the very promising Google Glass has marginally fallen into this dark side of wearable tech just recently.