By Dr Claire Novorol, Chief Medical Officer, Ada Health
The future of healthcare is a combination of wearable tech and mobile health apps, powered by AI, providing bespoke support and behavioural nudges
What will happen when wearable devices such as smartwatches and fitness trackers become fully integrated with consumer digital health platforms, clinical records and intelligent learning algorithms, and healthcare becomes underpinned by truly personalised digital health support and guidance?
Combining the power of AI with a constant flow of personal data, ‘digital health guides’ will emerge that support individuals, step-by-step, through their healthcare journeys.
Crucially, these guides will deliver a far greater level of personalised healthcare than is currently possible – by integrating the data from wearable technology to provide more informed and bespoke insights, guidance and decision support.
Over time, the health profiles built up by these apps will enable monitoring, guidance and behavioural nudges to be tailored directly to users’ needs, preferences and motivational drivers.
Tracking parameters such as pulse and blood pressure could help with stress monitoring, enabling apps to remind the user when they need to take a break or practice relaxation exercises.
The data tracked by wearable technology, such as heart rate, activity, sleeping patterns and even a range of biomarkers such as those in our sweat, will help transform digital health apps from tools that we use only when we get sick, to daily advisors on our health, providing regular data points, and continuous data streams where relevant, building up a picture of our day-to-day lives.
For instance, if a patient’s condition could be improved with regular moderate exercise, a wearable fitness tracker and other sensors might be integrated with such a guide.
The patient could request daily reminders to walk to work rather than drive, monitor their step count and simultaneously keep track of the effects on various measures including blood pressure, heart rate, blood glucose and weight.
Likewise, tracking parameters such as pulse and blood pressure could help with stress monitoring, enabling apps to remind the user when they need to take a break or practice relaxation exercises.
Another area such technologies can be of benefit is medication management. Already, numerous health apps are available that store data on patients’ medications.
Integrating healthcare apps with wearable technology will allow for minute-by-minute monitoring of those with chronic conditions, a task which is physically impossible for human doctors and nurses but vital for responding as quickly as possible to patient deterioration and spotting changes in conditions.
Drug adherence is a significant problem and a range of approaches have emerged to help with this, from timed reminders to smart pills or smart pill packs.
By combining this adherence information with wearable sensors and prompted symptom tracking, the effectiveness, interactions and side effects of drugs could be monitored and flagged to both patient and physician, enabling prompt adjustments where necessary.
Beyond this, integrating healthcare apps with wearable technology will allow for minute-by-minute monitoring of those with chronic conditions, a task which is physically impossible for human doctors and nurses but vital for responding as quickly as possible to patient deterioration and spotting changes in conditions.
For example, diabetics requiring insulin treatment often run the risk of large fluctuations in blood sugar. Continuous monitoring is possible with sensors linked to a smart device and app. Insulin treatment can then be tailored with precision, optimising diabetic control without dangerous extremes of blood sugar.
Another example is patients suffering with palpitations. These can be so infrequent and short lived that they evade detection, even by sophisticated heart monitoring devices used by doctors. However, a simple patient-activated device, placed on a patient’s wrist or finger and connected to their smartphone, could capture these elusive disturbances.
Make no mistake, progress in this field is accelerating rapidly and we are only just beginning to imagine the impact of these changes on our future health.
As technology evolves, we will see additional data types, such as genetic tests and biomarker panels, integrated into the datasets these guides use to inform decision-making, making healthcare altogether more efficient and more accurate. This individualised data will enable specifically targeted treatment resulting in improved safety and fewer unwanted side effects, even with commonly used drugs.
The presence of certain genetic risks will also guide individualised health screening. Combined with electronic medical records, laboratory, scan and pathology reports, these guides will become powerfully predictive tools, enabling proactive and highly personalised care, to a level not even the most sophisticated health systems nor the most informed and conscientious doctors could hope to offer without the support of such personal digital technologies.
All of this, in the hands of patients, in their own homes, all across the globe.
Of course there will be complexities and challenges, ranging from patient privacy and data security to the reliability of algorithms and appropriateness of guidance. Behavioural change is also a tough nut to crack and technology alone will never be the answer – the interaction between human and health guide will become a science in itself.
But make no mistake, progress in this field is accelerating rapidly and we are only just beginning to imagine the impact of these changes on our future health.
Dr. Claire Novorol, Chief Medical Officer, Ada Health
Claire is the co-founder and Chief Medical Officer for Ada Health, a personal health guide that uses AI and machine learning to help people to understand and manage their health. Before founding Ada, Claire worked as a Paediatrician in London before specialising in Clinical Genetics. She has degrees in Pathology and Medicine as well as a PhD in Neuroscience from the University of Cambridge.