Tag Archives: wearable tech

Various wearables available on the market today

The Next Battleground of the Data Revolution – Your Doctor’s Office

Wearables are gaining such explosive traction in the consumer space these days, you’d be blind (and deaf)… or perhaps just live somewhere remote to not know about them. Fitbit, Jawbone, Vivofit, Basis, you name it. There are dozens upon dozens on the market today, and that number isn’t going down any time soon. Apple is going to release their Watch soon, and many other great new ideas are on the immediate horizon. I’m looking forward to my impending pair of smart socks by Sensoria quite soon, in fact.

Various wearables available on the market today

Various wearables available on the market today

Trackers, or “wearables” (short for wearable technology) are popular because they give consumers a level of control over their lives that they never had previously. “If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it”, the old management axiom goes. It’s true. If I didn’t know how active or inactive I was on a given day, how could I improve my fitness? If I don’t know what my resting heart rate is, how can I tell if I’m working out hard enough or not? Or too hard? If I wake up feeling crappy, if I don’t know how much I was tossing and turning, how can I tell why I had a bad sleep? Short answer; you can’t. And for most of history up to this point, you had to guess. You had to use a manual pedometer to count steps. You had learn how to measure your heart rate by putting fingers on your neck and watching a stopwatch. You had to go to the doctor’s office to have your blood pressure read or to have a sleep study conducted.

This is another shift in empowerment of the consumer. Think back to how we used to have to buy a car in the 1980’s or early 1990’s. All of the power resided with the car dealers, because they had control over all of the information. We had no idea what the blue book prices were, no access to vehicle history, and very little ability to comparison shop. When Kelly Blue Book went online for free, Carfax was born, and online comparison tools rose, the power shifted to the consumer. Today, car dealers make very little on each individual car sale, and instead have to try and go for volume to make money. This is exactly what is happening with health and fitness data today.

Which brings me to my point. I heard a story on NPR the other day.  “Sure You Can Track Your Health Data, but Can Your Doctor Use It?” Doctors are the new car dealers. This new empowerment of consumers armed with gobs of data are shifting the power base in health care. And like any time in history when you try to change a power base, there is backlash from those who stand to lose power. It is just human nature. Doctors are on the line now to have to shift the way they do their work, and many of them don’t like it, because their consumers are becoming more educated. Sure we are all warned about the hazards of self-diagnosis, and to consult your doctor. But on the contrary, as doctors are becoming harder and harder to access due to shortages and the “15 minute rule”, where they try to see as many patients in a day as possible, coming to the exam room armed with data to show what is important and what is not can be a real game-changer.

Dr. Paul Abramson who was interviewed in the NPR story says: “I get information from watching people’s body language, tics and tone of voice,” he says. “Subtleties you just can’t get from a Fitbit or some kind of health app.” The story also says that Dr. Abramson isn’t a technophobe, and also an engineer. What he isn’t is a data person. Or even a data scientist. And, for me, there’s the rub. Doctors are going to have to start becoming “data people”, and fast. If not, their jobs are going to evaporate and they will be replaced by those who can be. Watching people’s body language and tone of voice is fine, but a terabyte of empirical data will trump that any day. Data will tell exactly what is going on in a person’s body. Large, self-collected data sets will provide a much clearer picture of a person’s health than a 15 minute office visit can tell. Data will be more complete than a 5 or 10 minute test can tell. And, most importantly, data will allow us to start making accurate forecasts and predictions on our health, and help us avoid potential problems before they become problems.

Imagine if a person was wearing a small wrist band that does constant heart rate monitoring. Based on months of 24/7 monitoring data, imagine if an app could predict if that person was becoming at risk for having a heart attack? Or at risk for a having a stroke based on blood pressure data? This is all possible when we start having access to large, rich data sets of consumer health information. And this is only the beginning.

The problem is going to be what the problem in healthcare IT has always been. There are no overall standards or governance on how health data is stored, and each hospital, doctor’s office, and insurance company have different ways of doing it. And each is very entrenched in their own process and very reluctant to change. I worked in healthcare IT for several years (my wife has for over 25 years), and I can say from experience that it is like the Wild West. But we’re going to have to find ways to break down those walls and insist that our health care includes some expert analysis of our consumer-collected health data. We’d be silly not to.

As more and more consumers are tracking their health data, the pressure will become more intense on doctors to start incorporating it into their care plans for patients. Doctors like Dr. Abramson won’t be able to just shrug and not know what to do with it. In a few more years, vastly more patients will be coming to the exam room armed with data. Insurance companies are already starting with the pressure, too. Many plans are starting to offer discounts to members who wear a tracker and log a certain number of steps per year. Healthier people are cheaper to cover. Why not use that data in the exam room, too?

What do you think about the future or wearables and health care?

Would you use a different doctor if you knew that your data would be evaluated?

What part of this is scary to you?

Apple is entering the Fitness Tracking market

There have been rumors spinning around the Interwebs for a long time about an Apple smart watch, or iWatch, but it has yet to surface. As Pebble, Samsung, Sony, and now Google all have either products on the market or prototypes soon to be, Apple is strangely mum on the subject.

But just a few days ago, an information leak tipped Apple’s hand a bit. Follow the link to read about the impending Apple HealthBook. While this indicates an iOS application for tracking all kinds of health-related information, you can bet your lucky stars that Apple is going to follow up with a device to feed data into that application. What will that device look like? Nobody knows at this point. There are some stunning ideas out there. There are also some guesses based on patents that Apple has filed.

Concept models for the Apple iWatch

Concept models for the Apple iWatch

So why am I excited about all of this? I’m an old-time IT pro. I’ve been in this business for a long time now (nearly 20 years) and I’ve seen some stuff. Back when personal computers were just learning how to talk to one another, and we were building networks and then hooking them into the Internet for the first time, one of the biggest problems we had was integration. There were so many different manufacturers of hardware and software, that it was often quite difficult to get all of the different parts to talk to one another properly. I remember saying back in 1996 or so, that I didn’t care if Microsoft took over the world, as long as everything worked together properly. And not long after that, Microsoft did indeed take over the PC world. And everything worked together pretty well. The story of the rise of Apple is well documented, and Apple took this idea to the next level. By producing both hardware and software, you are assured of the absolute best user experience.

Now look at the fitness tracking market today. You have apps for your smart phone. You have devices for your ankle, your wrist, or wherever. You have web portals. You have training plans and social networks. And they are all over the place. What’s the biggest issue facing the wearables market today? Integration! It’s really tough to get a holistic view of all of your health data. Some trackers only do steps and distance. Some do heart rate and body temperature. It is very hard to find a single place to put all of your data. Apple has the know-how and the reach to make this right. To make it simple, easy to use, and beautiful.

You can bet I’ll be watching this closely. This is going to be big.

 

My Love Affair with @FitBit Continues with the FitBit Force

My nearly 2-year-old FitBit Ultra finally bit the dust. It is pretty obvious to me that there were design issues with that model. First because I know several people who had them and the result was the same, the housing would crack and the device would fall apart. Second, because FitBit stopped making them, and the newer models are totally redesigned.

I struggled for a while deciding on how to replace it. I replaced my wife’s broken Ultra with the FitBit One earlier this year for a Mother’s Day gift, so I knew all of what that could do. I was intrigued by the FitBit Flex, but could not live without the altimeter counting my elevation and floors of stairs. I considered the Nike FuelBand second generation, because I heard rumors there was going to be a heart rate monitor built in, but when it finally released without the HRM, that was quickly kicked from my list. At almost the same time, FitBit announced the Force, which really was the answer for me. It had all of the functionality I wanted from my broken FitBit Ultra, but in the wrist-band style of tracker I had a feeling would be more to my liking. Through all of my deliberation, I did not place my pre-order for the Force on the first day. I waited a couple of weeks, and for that I had to wait over a month for it to ship. First world problems, I realize. But it is finally here, and I’ve had a couple of weeks to play with it.

Showing my step count for the day, and the little bar across the bottom shows progress towards daily goal

Showing my step count for the day, and the little bar across the bottom shows progress towards daily goal

 

What I like about my FitBit Force:

  • I never have to wonder where it is. I can feel it on my wrist.
  • It is comfortable to wear. I often forget it is even there.
  • It is WAY more accurate than the Ultra. There used to be big differences, especially while running, between FitBit and RunKeeper. No more.
  • It syncs wirelessly with my iPhone. My Ultra needed to be near the base station.
  • The charge lasts a long time, and the device will send me alerts when the battery gets low. Way cool.
  • The clasp is nice and secure. I never worry about if falling off.
  • When I registered the device late in the day, it asked if I was replacing a device, which I was, and it automatically transferred all of the data from my old Ultra tracker to my new Force. That was a NICE touch!
  • The Force will vibrate when you hit your goal for the day, and you can configure what you want that goal to be. I have mine set for my 10,000 steps per day. The buzzing cheer surprises me, but I like it.
  • The first item to display is the time. I have found that the Force has replaced my watch for most intents and purposes.
  • I have heard that in an upcoming update, the Force will do some things like my Pebble smart watch does, like vibrate and display text messages, vibrate when I get a phone call and display the name or number, and alert me to incoming emails. This could be pretty cool.

What I don’t like:

  • It is not “waterproof”. It is “splash and sweat resistant” but you can’t submerge it. The charger connection on the back is bare metal. I only take it off when I get in the shower, but part of me would prefer to just never have to take it off. The FitBit Flex, by contrast, is waterproof and can be worn in the shower or in the pool.
Here's the back of the Force. You can easily see why it isn't waterproof.

Here’s the back of the Force. You can easily see why it isn’t waterproof.

  • The clasp was REALLY hard to fasten the first couple of times. I thought I would never get it on right out of the box. It has since broken in nicely, but was a downer at first.
Here's the clasping mechanism. You have to fit the two metal "teeth" into the appropriate holes. Good luck with that the first few times.

Here’s the clasping mechanism. You have to fit the two metal “teeth” into the appropriate holes. Good luck with that the first few times.

  • Although it is really comfortable to wear all day, I find it not so comfortable to wear to bed to measure my sleep. I think part of that is the metal back on my skin. I get kinda tired of it by the end of the day, like a watch. I have been toughing it out for the data, however.

Overall I really like the device. I have loved FitBit for nearly 2 years now, and I’m going to keep on loving them for a while more. Do you use a FitBit yet? Or do you have another type of tracking device you prefer?