By Anna Barnacka, PhD, CEO and founder, MindMics.
Thanks to the explosion of affordable and miniaturized wearable technology, consumers now have a sizeable increase in awareness of individual health data. In the United States alone, consumer use of wearables has increased from 9% to 33% in just four years, and the industry is expected to continue to grow. We are at the dawn of a new era in which consumers will be equipped with a constant stream of knowledgeable and actionable data.
When wearables entered the consumer market about a decade ago, they were something for “health geeks” – people who were passionate about understanding the functioning of their bodies and who generally knew how to interpret the data they were receiving. Since then, there has been an incredible shift, brought on mainly by consumer electronics companies, towards creating wearables for everyday use. In the last three years alone, we have seen the huge impact that these companies have had with their messaging and marketing; now, wearables are for everyone.
Current wearables on the market can give us data about diabetes, hypertension or cardiac health, such as arrhythmias. With this technology, we can take control of our health and are provided with tools to monitor and change our behavior based on the gathered information. Before wearables, terms like heart rate variability (HRV) rarely – if ever – were mentioned in the mainstream media. Now, this information is available at our fingertips.
Wearables are not only making health information more accessible but also making it more personal. No longer do you need to wait for your annual physical to have a health update – you can take an electrocardiogram (ECG) whenever and wherever you want, using a device on your wrist. Wearables are finally affordable and blend into our lifestyles. More importantly, they allow us an almost constant stream of data to monitor individual health metrics. Wearables allow us to take control of our personal health and that starts with tracking health data on our own initiative.
As we continue to learn about and become more involved with our own health, it is time to use this technology to create change in real-time. Consumer wearables give us feedback on our health, but that feedback – until now – has been provided minutes, hours, or days later. This gives us a chance to reflect on the meaning of the information retroactively but relies on the user to analyze that data – then attempt to implement changes proactively.
Combining breakthrough advances in our understanding of physiology and accurate real-time data gathering from wearables opens a slew of possibilities. For example, we can monitor health data to better understand the reactional effects of our automatic nervous system. We can observe the physiological impacts of getting particularly stressed during a work meeting with our boss (or an employee). We can build systems that nudge us to take steps to not only calm our anxiety but to more constructively use our stress response overall and to build resilience by developing techniques that help us better prepare for stressful events.