New Technology For Self-Care

By Jason Brandt (@JasonDMG3)

Recently, weve talked about how new technologies are helping patients on transplant waiting lists live a normal life out of their homes, instead of confined to a hospital bed, and how theyre helping caregivers monitor senior citizens in a thorough but respectful way. That got us to thinking about all of the health-care technology that is coming into the home, making it easier for patients to take care of themselves – these backpack motors and household systems, but also tiny equipment, like small wearable monitors that check vital signs like blood pressure and pulse oxygen. We started geeking out over little high-tech gadgets, as we do.

But then we stopped and wondered. We think this stuff is cool because were looking at it from a techie perspective, not necessarily from a user perspective. What do the patients think of this stuff?

Interestingly, one 2004 study found that “the use of specialised medical equipment by patients at home, which has “increased in most industrialised countries…over the past 15 years, was actually met by patients who felt “deeply ambivalent about the benefits and drawbacks of technology. While technology can be pivotal in making patients autonomous and able to participate in the social world, it also imposes heavy restrictions that are intimately interwoven with the nature of the particular disease and with the patients personal life trajectory.

Its worth noting, though, that IV antibiotics and nutrition, dialysis and oxygen were the therapies investigated. Seven years on, the focus is much more on primary and secondary prevention in home self-care – on preventing an illness or event from ever happening, or after one case, preventing it from happening again – rather than just on long-term acute necessaries.

However, patients still have the same frustrations when the technology helping them care for themselves is too intrusive, clunky or problematic to feel helpful. They may understand quite well that its doing them a benefit, but if it makes life difficult, its hard to feel grateful. Take hearing aids, for instance. Now packed with advanced technology and so tiny as to be difficult to see, hearing aids were derided for being embarrassingly large and squawkily unhelpful.

What technologies do we have today that could be made better? The glaringly obvious new helper we have in this process is in your pocket right now: the mobile phone. Half of all Americans carry around the equivalent of a circa-2000 computer. Its no understatement to say that this has the potential to turn healthcare on its head. The industry is being given an incredible new platform that can make mobile self-care possible to a degree impossible to imagine in previous decades, and we absolutely must be giving this the time, attention, resources and creativity that it deserves.

That’s why Im going to keep a close eye on the mHealth Summit later this year, and until then, its sponsors and participants. There already are a lot of brilliant people with their heads in this space (besides us!) and I have a good feeling about it. Were going to see exciting things soon.

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