2014 Essays: The Digital Health Revolution

Over the next few weeks I’ll be writing a series of short essays on the digital health revolution and publishing them here on the blog. I’ll be covering topics related to digital health from personal genomics to wearable computing to the use of the important role of the smartphone for health.

Titled 2014 Essays I hope they’ll prove as a useful snapshot of what’s to come in the digital health realm.

Introduction: The Digital Revolution

Over the course of the last 30 years digital technology has pervaded our lives in every imaginable way, from how we arrange travel to the very way in which we work. It can be described as the Information Age but perhaps it is more suitably labeled as the Digital Revolution.

The personal computer, smartphone and tablet are the main hardware drivers of this revolution. Technological game-changers and disruptors including social media, online media, ecommerce, online dating, e-readers, big data and cloud computing are underpinned by the ever-growing and ever-powerful yet very young internet.

We are always on, always connected and each individual part of our lives is wired.

If the Digital Revolution lasts for the same length of time as the Industrial Revolution, we have around another 50 years of continuous advancement of devices, systems and technologies wrapped in supercomputers of unbelievable power and intelligence and possibly things we can’t quite imagine yet.

Quite simply, the radical journey we’ve traveled through in the Digital Revolution will be nothing in comparison with where we are heading.

Welcome to the Digital Health Revolution

Digital technologies are colliding with the fields of biology and disrupting the entire health industry in ways which will radically transform how we prevent and diagnose diseases, track and monitor our health and fitness, and how individuals take responsibility for their long-term health and wellbeing.

Smartphones, personal genomics, big data, social media, smart sensors, wearables, bioanalytics, mHealth, citizen science and biohacking are some of the innovations that are revolutionizing and bringing a paradigm shift to health, fitness and wellbeing.

New technologies are bringing down barriers and shaping a new future of personalized medicine, digital health records, citizen science and ‘health tricorders’ that will allow us to lead longer and healthier lives. Digital health is permeating through all aspects of our lives from the home to the workplace to the gym to the hospital.

The home of the future will be a laboratory of passive sensors gathering and interpreting health data from weight to heart rate. Organizations of all kinds will take advantage of this technology to improve employee productivity and health. Data and technology in the 2010s will be the third evolution in sports and fitness like exercise and nutrition were in the 1950s and1980s respectively. The doctor’s role will change from a practitioner to a health consultant advising people and prescribing based on their health data

Wearable technology is allowing people to capture data about their bodies in ways which were previously impossible. Sensors woven into the fabric of t-shirts, sweaters and other clothing items will be standard in apparel manufacturing. Tech giants Google with its Glass project and Apple’s recent wearable device patents will have the innovative might and marketing clout to push this in to the consciousness of the mainstream. Our genetic and microbiome data collectively will allow us to mitigate disease risks and advise us on our overall health and fitness strengths.

Revolutions Begin with Innovators

All digital revolutions begin with the innovators and the early adopters as noted in the Diffusion of Innovations line graph below. The Digital Health Revolution is no different.

Diffusions of Innovation
Diffusions of Innovation

While still in its infancy, digital health is increasingly gaining wider consciousness and awareness among the general population as the tools become easier to use and integrate with one another, the sensors become more passive and the benefits of using them are clear.

However, it’s not just the modern world that will benefit from this revolution. Low-income economies where traditional healthcare is less accessible stand to benefit profoundly using mobile technologies and remote monitoring. Health devices that once cost $20,000 now cost $200 and fit on to the back of an iPhone. The cost of sequencing a human genome originally cost one billion dollars; now it costs thousands.

Quite simply, digital health will benefit all, regardless of geography and social status. Big change and advancements are ahead helping society to live longer, healthier and ultimately happier lives. Welcome to the digital health revolution.

Interview: Paul Landau, Fitbug CEO

2014 Essays: Wearable technology