By Brooke Faulkner, freelance writer, @faulknercreek.
The proliferation of wearable mobile-connected devices has done a lot of good for people trying to lead healthier lives. People are able to gather data about their sleep to help them get better rest, track insomnia, stress, and exercise, and keep up to date on their own daily routines and health.
Many of the devices exist not just as trackers but as ways for people to motivate themselves to exercise more, go to bed at more regular times, and other little things that slip by in the daily grind.
Healthcare Data in the Modern Age
Sleep is absolutely related to health. Many health issues affect our sleep or are caused by issues with sleeping. A number of medical professionals are interested in how, when, and for how long we sleep. These days, that information is stored in digital medical records, which have a number of advantages. Specialists can access information far more quickly and easily to help us with medical problems.
There are, however, disadvantages to medical records being easily accessible and easily updatable. Privacy and security have become major concerns for healthcare providers, as the records contain our most sensitive information, which proves highly valuable to hackers.
Official medical records, however, are just the tip of the iceberg. We use the internet not only as a go-to for advice about medical conditions, but as a method to voluntarily record all sorts of data about us. Recording, storing, and tracking sleep data on our personal devices gives us a lot of power to “do it yourself” when it comes to preventative health and tracking changes in our sleep patterns. This ease of use, however, comes with a cost. It’s not all about sinister hackers, either; that data can be used in all sorts of ways that are, while not outright damaging, at least partially invasive.
Wearables, Bluetooth and Data
Tech companies are working on more advanced ways to use high-tech devices to track our sleep. These include wearables and even devices that don’t need to be attached to the body. The amount of information gathered, and its accuracy, varies greatly by device. The Bluetooth connectivity and the ability to store, track, and share the data the devices collect are parts of their appeal.
The number and type of people who benefit from this information is vast. Sleep disorders are a common side effect of other medical disorders, and managing sleep is an important part of living a healthy lifestyle, especially for people who are at greater risk for certain conditions.
You don’t need to have or be at risk for medical complications to make use of sleep data, however. There are plenty of careers in the U.S. which require people to work long or unconventional hours. Night shifts and long shifts, such as those worked by nurses, can cause havoc with the circadian rhythms that regulate our sleep. This can create complications for otherwise completely healthy people. Being able to self-regulate with the help of wearable devices is a great advantage.
Guest post by Domingo Guerra, president & co-founder, Appthority.
Last year, 2013, was a big year for mobile applications, including medical and health-related apps. As many medical centers have sought to increase patient engagement, improve outcomes and reduce healthcare costs, digital tools, such as iPads, smartphones, online portals and text messaging in hospitals are rapidly becoming commonplace. Smart health tech has gotten serious. Patients and doctors alike use medical apps. Physicians can access symptom checkers, drug information, medical calculators and more via smartphone and tablet apps. Patients can use apps to find doctors, set appointments, order prescriptions, receive test results, track calories, measure their heart rates and even monitor chronic diseases like diabetes. Patients and doctors agree that the immediate feedback and increase in available data will change the face of medicine. But will the face of privacy change with it?
Acquiring huge amounts of personal data from individuals could enable a more personalized and data driven approach to medicine. This is a very seductive concept, based on the implicit assumption that the more healthcare providers know about the patient, from analyzing his or her data, the better (and more customized) care the patient will receive. However, personal data, now collected and collated by the user’s health gadget, will be incredibly valuable to more than just the patient and the provider. Devices, whether they’re Google Glass or fitness wristbands will need to be integrated with newly developed apps, and existing apps will need to be heavily adapted to work properly. These technology integrations can potentially open back doors that allow cybercriminals to enter and extract sensitive data.
The aggregated data gathered from a wearable wristband capable of tracking a user’s heart rate, and expiration rates along with their blood sugar level and, of course, location can offer a truly comprehensive view of a user. Yes, it’s still early in the healthcare wearables space, but it was “early” in the mobile and BYOD spaces not long ago. Just as BYOD has led to security concerns for sensitive corporate data, these new healthcare devices should be a concern for personal privacy. As users are now literally plugging themselves into the Internet, it’s important to remember that cyber attackers can gain details about daily routines, patterns, and lifestyle, as well as location. This private information, tied together in a dossier that can include a user’s location, income, health status, and other attributes such as sexual orientation, could be of interest to many other groups.
With another new year on the horizon, many are wondering what 2014 will bring. For those in health IT, the more important question might actually be wear – as in wearable devices. The popularity of wearables will continue to explode and the burgeoning trend will move from a mainstay primarily in Silicon Valley and other tech meccas to mainstream America.
Wearables on the rise
Just as smartphones have evolved from being the hot gadgets of the early adopter set into the must-have devices for teens, soccer moms and business people alike — after all, 55 percent of global phone sales in the last quarter were smartphones — so too will wearables proliferate in the year ahead. Indeed, ABI Research has predicted the wearables space is in for a huge growth spurt, estimating the global market for health and fitness wearables to reach 170 million devices by 2017 (2).
2014 will see evolutionary advancements in wearable devices: they’re going to get smaller, sleeker, and more beautiful; battery life will increase; syncing will go wireless for everyone; a huge new generation of devices will emerge both from existing players and new players, and an even larger number of applications based on the new chips phone manufactures are building directly into smartphones will emerge with user interfaces as varied as ice cream flavors. But, at the current rate of innovation, I’m really hoping to see more revolutionary changes in the year ahead as well. My favorite would be anything that cracks the laborious food and calorie tracking nightmare for consumers.