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Back To Blog > What is the Future of Health and Well-Being Technology?


This post is by Anthony Savage of Sparta Health

The unprecedented technological advancement brought on in the late 20th and early 21st century has revolutionised the field of health and well-being. New technology has changed our fundamental concept of what it means to be healthy and has contributed immensely to the well-being and workplace health of people all over the globe. Nevertheless, technological advancement always brings certain caveats with it. With the pace of progress showing no signs of slowing, it is important to consider the potential applications of future technologies for health and well-being, in order to properly account for their advantages and disadvantages and be cognizant of dangers ahead of time, as opposed to grappling with issues as they appear.

Artificial intelligence (AI) is one rapidly developing field that has myriad of applications in the health and well-being industry. IBM’s question-answering computer system “Watson” is a shining example of the potential of AI when implemented correctly. Watson was created to apply advanced natural language processing, information retrieval, knowledge representation, automated reasoning, and machine learning technologies to the field of open domain question answering. In other words, it’s a computer that can understand and answer questions posed in the standard English spoken by humans. Watson was initially developed to answer questions on the quiz show Jeopardy!, but has since found another job helping to make utilisation management decisions in lung cancer treatment at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, New York City. Watson can parse a question posed to it by a healthcare professional, identify the most important information, such as symptoms, and cross-reference the information with the patient’s medical history and available literature in the field to provide a list of individualised, confidence-scored recommendations. In this, the system is so effective that Manoj Saxena, IBM Watson's business chief said that 90% of nurses in the field who use Watson now follow its guidance. AI has the ability to keep in mind all of a patient’s symptoms, their entire medical history, and all the available literature in the field when making diagnoses and treatment recommendations, and is thus able to make more informed judgements than any human doctor. It’s clear from what Watson has showed us that the role of AI in diagnosis and treatment is only going to increase in the future.

Wearable technology is another recent development that looks to revolutionise the field of day-to-day healthcare. So-called “smartwatches” are coming with more and more features every year, allowing wearers to keep track of their heart rate, blood pressure, blood oxygen levels, and even glucose and insulin levels in the case of diabetic patients. These devices also boast extensive features to aid the maintenance of a healthy diet and exercise regime, such as tracking the length and difficulty of physical activity, measuring the number of calories burned, and recommending exercise tailored to the individual. Not only is this important to help wearers keep track of their health, the massive amount of data captured by these devices could be invaluable to medical professionals, and could even be interpreted by an AI tool like Watson to provide more insight. As wearable devices become more common, cheaper, and loaded with an increased number of features, they will surely become an irreplaceable tool for the monitoring and maintenance of health and wellbeing.

The ubiquity of smartphones is also shaping up to be a key factor in the future of health and well-being technology. Widespread screening of populations for health problems is an invaluable tool in reducing the diagnostic stress of healthcare systems, and the easiest way to screen large numbers of people is through the phones they all carry. One example is GSK’s MyAsthma app developed in partnership with Nottingham Respiratory Research Unity, the University of Nottingham and Earthworks. For asthma sufferers it provides lifestyle and environmental information combined with data relating to the status of a person’s asthma. It connects with various health tracking apps and lets users share the history with their doctor (1). The NHS track and trace app developed in the UK as a response to the covid-19 pandemic is another example of smartphones being used to great effect for the health of a population. The app tracks users’ location and is able to tell them if they have been in contact with someone suspected of having covid-19 and whether they should self-isolate. Smartphones will only become more ubiquitous, and as the software used on them continues to develop, they are sure to be used more and more for such purposes.

The development of quick, easy and cheap DNA testing is another factor set to change the face of health and well-being technology. The Human Genome Project, the first attempt to map a human genome in its entirety, took 13 years in total, from 1990 to 2003, and cost an estimated $2.7 billion in 1991 dollars. Automated high-throughput genome sequencers can now map a person’s entire genome in a matter of a few weeks, and for a cost low enough that companies like 23andme can market the process to consumers. In other words, we are now able to quickly and cheaply arrive at a breakdown of a person’s entire genome and how it could affect their health and wellbeing. As techniques continue to get cheaper and quicker, it seems inevitable that this data will be used more and more for the development of personalised healthcare. Therefore, the future of health and well-being technology is set to involve medicine tailored to any given patient’s specific genome in order to ensure the highest chance of a favourable treatment outcome.

Technology has changed the shape of healthcare, and will undoubtedly continue to do so. While the promise of these new developments is exciting, we will have to keep in mind the potential drawbacks. Smartphones, wearables, and DNA testing combined gather more data about any given human being than has ever been accessible before, and there are legitimate concerns about the privacy implications of what is done with such data. As far as AI is concerned, those in the field have made clear their concerns regarding the surpassing of human minds by AI and its replacement of human workers, which is likely to have significant economic and cultural consequences. Nevertheless, technology is an invaluable component of the modern health and well-being landscape, and the future is bright.

About Anthony Savage 

Anthony Savage is the Medical Services Manager at Sparta Health, having joined the team in 2017 and is responsible for the overall operational delivery of our high quality services to our clients. He has a solid background in workplace physiology, health and safety, as well over 12 years of delivering, and holding senior management positions, for leading injury and condition management providers.

He is known for his innovative approach in his design and execution of services and his ability to build enduring relationships.

References:

  1. Wellbeing technology in the workplace: trending now and in future [Internet]. Personnel Today. 2018 [cited 2020 Oct 1]. Available from: https://www.personneltoday.com/hr/wellbeing-technology-in-the-workplace-trending-now-and-in-future/
Healthcare Technology

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