Are Big Data, Smart Devices And Wearables Improving Wellness And Saving Lives?

It should come as no surprise that we're losing the battle to improve global wellness.

A report published by the World Health Organization in 2011 illustrates the current (grim) state of affairs.

In the developing and developed world, most people don't get enough physical activity. Obesity is a major problem, not only in the United States, but in countries like Japan and China, where people have traditionally had a lower body mass index.

We know that getting people to engage in healthful behaviors is a priority, but we've failed miserably. 

But, there are rays of hope. As digital technologies like the Web and mobile have gained in popularity, some have used these tools to nudge people to engage in healthier behaviors. 

For example, Stanford professor BJ Fogg has made a career of demonstrating (and teaching others) how computers, mobile tools and other digital technologies can be used to shape health behavior.



Yet, although digital technologies have helped to improve the wellness picture, many solutions developed over the last decade have been imperfect, at best. They have been difficult to scale, or missed vital capabilities that could enable them to deliver the types of personalized, consistent support people need to shift health behaviors.

But, thanks to new innovations like Big Data, sensors and smarter digital devices, things are beginning to change. 

I call this new trend the TechnoWellness Revolution. It's all about combining recent digital innovations with humans — at scale — to shift behaviors and even save lives. 

A new breed of wellness solutions that combine data, devices, analytics and human experts to boost healthy behaviors is driving this trend. Some examples of TechnoWellness solutions include: 

  • Traditional Web and mobile-based technologies being deployed across various patient populations: A widely-cited article published in Mayo Clinic Proceedings in April 2015 concluded that mobile and Web-powered digital health solutions have been proven to prevent heart disease by helping people lose weight and lower their body mass index. 
  • Data: Walgreens is using Big Data analytics, wearables and mobile to engage millions of customers around their health and wellbeing. When the company learned that it’s hard for people to stick to weight loss, diet and exercise plans, it added an essential human component to the mix, using health coaches and pharmacists to help people stay on track.
  • Coaches + Data + Information: Nudge is another firm using wearables, mobile and sensors — along with human coaches — to deliver personalized information and advice that helps them understand their condition and act on what they learn.

Of course, while these solutions are promising, we still have a long way to go. For example, as Google Ventures rightly observed recently, many consumer health companies deploying wearables, Big Data and other solutions aren’t developing technologies that are clinically viable or can pass muster with the FDA. 

But, while the road ahead is difficult, it does open up opportunities for traditional health industry players — including pharmaceutical companies that have the proven experience and expertise to develop clinically relevant products and services — to take the lead in digital health while developing commercially defensible and effective solutions. The trick will be to create (or buy) a suite of products that collectively bring in hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue, which would make them worth investing the time, money and human capital needed to bring them to life. 

As the TechnoWellness Revolution matures, it will provide innovators with opportunities — and setbacks. The key will be to determine how best to navigate the choppy waters ahead calmly and with confidence.

3 comments about "Are Big Data, Smart Devices And Wearables Improving Wellness And Saving Lives? ".
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  1. Bill Jackson from EPAM/Empathy Lab replied, October 17, 2015 at 11:44 a.m.

    Paula - if this whole things plays out successfully, it will save money by using preventative solutions to health problems, rather than trying to fix problems or sustain a person after they have had a negative and expensive health event. It won't work for everyone, but the the quesiton is can it be made to work for most people?

  2. Bill Jackson from EPAM/Empathy Lab, October 17, 2015 at 11:56 a.m.

    Fard, - there was a recent article in Forbes which talked about how corporate wellness programs utilizing things like wearables are going to fail. The article was short on solutions - the very solutons you are offering in your post. 

  3. Fard Johnmar from Enspektos, LLC replied, October 18, 2015 at 1:45 p.m.

    Thanks Bill for your comments re: my post and pointing out the Forbes piece. I saw the article shortly after it came out previously. 

    From an implementation perspective, a lot of these implementations will come down to key factors, including internal expertise in developing initiatives that make sense for those paying for and taking part in wellness-related programs. 

    This is an area that I'm focusing a lot of attention on currently and will be talking about in the months to come.


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