Larry Page of Google notoriety believes that if all the information out there being released by the medical industry could be data mined then it would be possible to save at least 100,000 lives annually. This was in 2014 that he made that prediction and somewhere near that time a survey indicated that Wikipedia was more trusted by the British people than they had confidence in entities like the BBC. As well, fitness trackers will most likely be used by at least 60 million people by the year 2018.
If these facts seem to be random, they really do have a common point. They are indicative of the fact that people everywhere are starting to take an active role in their own health and fitness and within that realm, the role of data is becoming increasingly more important.
Even though one-seventh of the population uses health apps and everyone Googles seasonal illness symptoms, the unfortunate aspect is that all the information they find isn’t going to be accurate, relevant or most importantly, useful.
Why Do So Many Trust Wikipedia?
Medical articles on Wikipedia get 200 million hits each month and there are more than 25,000 of them. The fact is that Wikipedia is quickly becoming the most trusted, and of course first source, of health information that consumers look to. As an open-source collaboration from people around the glove, the content is continually changing and it is said that medical professionals volunteer their time to check the accuracy of pages.
Even though this medical information is easily accessed and free, and approximately ¾ of all medical students and doctors say they use Wikipedia, there are concerns over the way the site is accessible to the public. The reality is that in 2014 the site was checked by the Journal of the American Osteopathic Association and they found that 90% of those entries on Wikipedia were inconsistent with the most recent medical research.
It is important to note here that Wikipedia does tell users that they should not be trusted and it is known that they never claimed to be a ‘go-to source’ for advice on health related issues. They never expected this and it is also known that the open-source encyclopaedia (the term is used loosely here) is not regulated by any government bodies.
In Britain, the site is called Wikimedia UK and when this information first hit the press in May of 2014, the British site made a statement that people needed to talk to their own GP if they had any real health concerns. There is no doubt that Wikipedia, a crowd-sourced site, is in fact valuable but it should be viewed with scepticism.
On to Fitness Trackers and Health Apps
In light of the fact that more than ¾ of the population have some sort of health app on their mobile phones, it would seem that doctors trust this innovative technology. However, a recent poll indicated that while GPs noted more and more patients asking about these apps, at least 80% of those GPs said they personally didn’t trust them. Another concern amongst 88% of GPs polled indicated that they believed healthy people would suddenly demand to be seen at local clinics believing they were ill.
On the other hand, other research indicates that there are indeed apps that provide data that is accurate and can give results that are reliable. These apps include such things as calorie counters and exercise trackers. However, in the end these apps are only meant to be used in terms of measurements and not monitoring tools. This means that without interpretation from medical professionals the data is rendered meaningless.
As a way to empower consumers, these types of tools can be useful by giving them a means of being responsible for their own wellbeing, to some extent, but are as yet not considered to be a reliable way to support daily care. Even so, programmes that are guided by clinics and utilise the apps in conjunction with devices classified as ‘medical grade’ do show promise in providing results. In the United States, a study by Banner Health indicated that elderly homebound patients, especially those with chronic illnesses, are achieving a better quality of life through the apps. Some are connected through video conferencing capabilities and monitored remotely through an operations centre.
Fitness trackers, the upper end trackers, can provide useful information such as activity bursts and the times in which these occurred. As well they can help to set goals and monitor progress. They can track patterns of activity and there are those that can signal reminders at times. But experts say that quantification isn’t’ the same as improvement.
Although we haven’t reached the goal in wearable devices quite yet, they will one day be commonplace. Alongside data that is accurate and from trusted sources, and in conjunction with medical advice that offers proper insight, they could be the delivery, prevention and diagnostic tools that lead to treatment as well as a vital tool to recovery.
Healthcare Going Forward
Positive change in healthcare is being ‘forced’ by consumers driven by the use of wearables with their corresponding apps. The potential is huge due to the tremendous amount of data that can be captured. Because consumers are taking a proactive interest in their health and seeking apps and wearables, the industry just can’t ignore the technology. This is all too clear to a great number of technology start-ups and currently respected brands.
Examples of current technology that is being worked on would include the contact lenses Google is developing that have the capability of measuring levels of blood sugar and an inexpensive plastic contact lens being developed by MIT, Catra, that is able to detect the presence of a cataract within moments. The information is transmitted to their smartphone and the beauty is that there is no training necessary. With Philips currently working on an assortment of technologies including the smart pill and what they call a “lab on a chip,” they seek to enter the arena as well.
The final analysis is that the combination of technology and medical insight is significantly improving the health industry.