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The Curious Combination Of Data, Technology And Healthcare Smart devices are the latest innovation in the ongoing health and wellness revolution.

By Amlan Bhattacharjya

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Companies have long understood the importance of promoting healthy lifestyles to their employees. With obesity, hypertension, and other chronic diseases having risen to epidemic levels around the world, companies are feeling the financial burden of an increasingly unhealthy workforce. Many of these conditions can be tied to increased absenteeism, disability, injury and rising healthcare costs.

Smart devices are the latest innovation in the ongoing health and wellness revolution. In only a few years, the miniaturization of sensors and the spread of smartphones have spurred the growth of self-tracking practices set to disrupt healthcare in a positive way. Health care players are finding new ways to help their patients take better care of themselves by using connected healthcare devices which allow the users to share data with their doctors on a more frequent basis and learn how to self-manage chronic conditions more effectively.

Smart devices are not just more engaging because they materialize a commitment to take better care of oneself. They give users stronger incentives to walk the extra mile through algorithm based coaching. Users can build communities, share steps or weight objectives for mutual support, and engage in healthy competition. Health assessments designed by doctors can be made continuous and effortless. Real-time dashboard allows early detection and more effective risk mitigation.

Supporting Behavioural Change

The reason why bad habits are so hard to change is because they don't actually involve a conscious process. Even when people really want to break them, will power just doesn't seem enough. The key to changing habits is to understand how they form. Habits are automatic behaviors triggered by situational cues, followed by some form of reward. The automation reinforces itself over time. As research highlights, habits cannot be erased; the only real way to change a bad habit is to replace it by a healthier one.

The good news is that technology can help go a long way in adopting healthier habits. Smart devices were designed in alignment with the latest findings in behavioral science. Smartphone based step tracking or weight measurement basically rewards small efforts, which users are nudged into sustaining on a day-to-day basis.

Walking the extra mile

Research data shows that the regular use of a connected tracker is correlated to a higher level of physical activity. Users who wear a tracker every 2 out of 3 days typically walk an average of 6,195 steps a day. That's 80% more than the average of 3,441 daily steps recorded for users who wear an activity tracker every 1 out of 3 days.

From Quantified-Self to Smart Coaching

Long before scales were connected, it was widely acknowledged that tracking weight was a useful, complement to any weight loss strategy. While it can be difficult to improve something you do not measure, the measurement itself is not enough. With smart incentives, users enjoy new tools to sustain their efforts. They can set objectives, commit to personalized weight loss tracking, plus earn rewards, achievable milestones, and read smart individualized insights all along the way. In short, it's no longer just about quantifying; it's about smart coaching.

The interesting thing about connected devices is that you can actually measure their impact because they generate statistics. For instance, obese users who weigh themselves on a regular basis lose on average much more weight than those who do not.

Self-tracking can prevent or help manage chronic conditions

Simple self-tracking tools can ease self-management of chronic diseases such as diabetes, asthma or hypertension. Technology is now making it easier for patients to keep track of healthcare data and make decisions based on a strong scientific rationale.

Controlling blood pressure

The impact of home blood pressure monitor tracking has been highlighted in a study published in May 2013 in the Journal of Diabetes Science and Technology by the Center for Connected Health. It concluded that wireless blood pressure monitoring has a positive impact on users' adherence, on clinical results, and on the operational efficiency of telemedicine. The connected blood pressure monitoring program resulted in the participants' systolic pressure dropping by an average of 6 mmHg and diastolic pressure by 2 mmHg. According to the study, a decrease of 5mmHg reduces the heart attack mortality rate by 14% and the heart disease mortality rate by 9%.

Sustaining good practice through communities

From sports teams to Alcoholic Anonymous gatherings, behavioral scientists have long noticed that communities play a decisive role in helping sustain healthy habits. You can go a much longer way in sustaining good health practices with group support or healthy competition. For health prevention, tracking steps on its own is not always sufficient. With this in mind, Withings introduced functionalities that make it fun to share and compare performance with friends/peers/colleagues.

Walking the extra mile with your team

Statistics based on 100,000 random users show that the more users had friends on their leaderboard, the more they tended to walk. In short, having one friend can make someone walk an extra 1,000 steps a day for sustained periods. Having 2 friends or more can help someone walk 2,000 extra steps a day.

The impact of these 2,000 extra steps on health can be huge. A study published in 2007 in JAMA on the impact of pedometers showed that people who walk an average of 2,000 additional steps a day recorded a drop in their blood pressure of 3.8 mmHg over a period of 18 weeks. This reduces significantly the likeliness of a cardiovascular accident.

Acknowledging the power of communities is a key step in beginning to think about how technology can help improve the health of organizations, if not society. Not everyone is lucky enough to belong to the right community, own the right devices, and benefit from a support group. Healthcare organizers and corporations must play a role to mitigate the unhealthy habits of their employees. With the right incentives, individuals can be nudged into joining healthy communities. With the right tools, communities can achieve great things.

Amlan Bhattacharjya

Founder & CEO, Brandeyes and MB

Amlan has 22 years of marketing, strategy, product management and consulting experience as an entrepreneur and with organizations such as Arthur Andersen. He founded Brandeyes in 2008 with a clear goal to deliver to the Indian consumers the latest trends in consumer electronics and become a leading digital lifestyle distribution company in India. Amlan is also the founder of MB, a successful business process outsourcing company with operations in the USA and India. From 2000 to 2004, Amlan was the Chief Operating Officer of Netwala Technologies India Ltd. Amlan began his professional career with Arthur Andersen where he spent in excess of seven years in the areas of process consulting, risk management and governance covering a cross section of industries.

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