Xanax or fingertips?

| July 17, 2015

New technologies bring about major changes not only in our social and family interactions, but also in healthcare. Gabrielle Davies allows us a glimpse into a future of a healthier and better informed community.

Try thinking of a young person you know on a typical day in five years’ time.

Imagine: as you sit in your comfy chair watching the exercise channel, a real time video call pops up on your TV screen. It’s the face of your young person calling from the public transport system they use to travel to work. While they walk to their chosen public workspace, you can see their heartrate and stress levels in a small panel and know that yours are appearing on their mobile screen.

On signing off, you know that your young person will sit wherever they choose in their workplace, and it will adjust to their musculo-skeletal profile using real-time biofeedback from their wearable device. Within minutes, their preferred (and nutritionally optimized) morning drink and snack will be delivered by a someone who knows whether to tell a joke or nod politely: just sitting in that chair with their wearable tech opens not only their personal health profile, but also enables their access to work networks and preferred social interaction levels.

These are some of the proximal services driven by biofeedback within Internet of Things (IoT) and they will be the key to workday, social and family interactions and personal health.

These changes in technology will also bring about major changes in healthcare.

The environmental intimacy implicit in the IoT paves the way for new services, new care models, new motivations and experience. Today we design technology solutions to support a specific instance or incident: in the future, we will design for an experience within an environmental context and the experience of the user. Obvious first steps today are ‘smart beds’ in digital hospitals, but imagine the patient in that bed also supported by nanotechnology in bandages and clothing, dissolvable micro transmitters in their medication and sensor based eating utensils. That hospital room becomes a rich data stream of micro feedback – from the walls, doors and ambient settings to the bedside support technologies and then to the very physicality of the patient themselves. Now imagine that same set of technologies in a GP office or a home, a gym, a workplace or your car… each there to sustain a different state of health.

The elements shaping that healthcare future are now apparent: situationally applied analytics, the manufacture of communication devices and networks and the design of remote care models. By focussing clearly on the capabilities we want to enable using the healthcare IoT, the future can be one in which the community is keeping better health, making fewer demands on an overstretched health system, and taking an active and better informed position about the necessity of health interventions. While our aging population and those in need will remain the bedrock of health delivery focus, our health future will be shaped by those who are not.

Take a moment to decide: will your world of healthcare be at your fingertips… or a four hour wait with a bottle of Xanax?