You didn’t know that you could prevent chronic diseases like heart failure, obesity and stroke using the Internet. With tech and healthcare you can.
“Prevention is better than cure.” That’s why we’re encouraged to eat more vegetables than meats, exercise, more than sit, and sleep more than play videogames.
But do these things really help? How would we know for sure that we’re actually becoming healthier with the lifestyle changes we’re making, and not staying the same, or even getting worse?
Juliett Starrett is a CrossFit athlete and the co-founder of San Francisco CrossFit. After giving birth and receiving a blood transfusion, Starrett kept feeling fatigued and getting chronic headaches.
The doctors put her on antibiotics, and thought it was just temporary. But even though Starrett was both extremely health-conscious and fit, she didn’t get better. To help her get through the day, Starrett resorted to drinking eight cups of coffee a day.
Starrett started working with WellnessFX. WellnessFX is a webbased service that combines traditional blood tests with intuitive online data tracking and phone consultations with physicians. Using WellnessFX, Starrett discovered that her iron, vitamin B12 and D levels — indicators of physical energy — were extremely low.
Thanks to WellnessFX’s ability to track biomarkers over time, Starrett changed her lifestyle, diet and supplements to attack her deficiencies. Over the next few months, her energy levels improved significantly, and she could cut her coffee down to a cup a day.
Not only did she feel better, Starrett could actually measure her improvements, using WellnessFX’s regular blood tests and online data tracking, to quantify how her biomarkers changed over time.
Tracking your biomarkers over time isn’t just something for elite athletes — according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in the United States, chronic diseases and conditions, such as heart disease, obesity and arthritis, are among the most common, and preventable of all health problems.
By monitoring your blood over time, you can track and stop markers like cholesterol, inflammation and blood sugar before they hit unhealthy levels.
Internet-connected health services aren’t just good for preventive care. In 2014, the University of California, San Francisco, began offering patients the use of a miniature wireless device called the CardioMEMS HF System implant.
The CardioMEMS is a battery-free device that’s smaller than a coin. It monitors the patient’s heart rates and artery pressures, and transmits them in real time to the hospital. Not only does it help doctors measure how patients are responding to different treatment therapies, it can tell doctors that a patient’s heart condition is getting worse, even before the patient feels any symptoms.
While having your personal health data online can be convenient, and in some cases, life saving, the one major concern is how secure and private your data can remain once it’s shared. The University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) Health recently experienced a cyberattack, which may have compromised as many as 4.5 million patient records.
But online healthcare might be a case where the potential rewards will far outweigh the risk — the stakes are as high asthey can ever be when lives are at stake.
Today, there’s a lot of talk about bringing our everyday appliances online, a concept that’s commonly called the Internet of Things; Internet-connected refrigerators and washing machines are real products you can go out and buy right now.
The logical extension of that is surely when our bodies join the Internet of Things. With services like WellnessFX, devices like the CardioMEMS, and consumer wearables becoming more adept at tracking our everyday activity.
The activity tracker you have on your wrist can do more than just count the number of steps you have taken and the hours you have slept. It has the power to change the way medical research is conducted.
MEDICAL RESEARCH IS A PARAMOUNT COMPONENT of medical studies and is crucial to our understanding to how people react to symptoms, how diseases work, and how effective a particular drug is in the real world.
One of the biggest challenges facing medical researchers is the lack of subjects. The truth is that methods for conducting medical research haven’t really changed in decades. Researchers would try to recruit subjects by putting up flyers, or attract them by offering small rewards for participation. In some cases, university might even make it compulsory for undergraduates to participate. Needless to say, these methods do not provide an accurate a cross-section of the population, thereby limiting our understanding of diseases.
Apple wants to change this. There are already hundreds of millions of iPhones out there and millions of users wearing Apple Watches and other activity trackers. So how can they harness this? The answer is ResearchKit, an opensource software framework that will allow researchers and developers to create apps for medical research.
n a nutshell, ResearchKit will allow researchers and doctors to gather more data by using apps and taking advantage of the millions of iPhones and Apple Watches that are already out there.
For example, one common way to assess Parkinson’s disease is the Parkinson’s Gait Test, where a doctor rates a patient on his walk on a scale of 0 to 4. It’s highly subjective and also troublesome to conduct as it requires patients or subjects to come in and walk in front of a doctor. But by using the accelerometer in the iPhone and Apple Watch, ResearchKit lets researchers and developers create apps that can accurately measure the gait of a patient or subject. It also lets subject do the test wherever they are and whenever they want.
Beyond Parkinson’s disease, ResearchKit will also allow for other apps to be created that can be used to measure and test for other conditions and diseases, allowing research subjects and patients to self-diagnose and take part in research without traveling to a clinic and without the presence and guidance of doctor. It makes things much more convenient and simpler.
Since ResearchKit pulls data out of the Health app, it’s not limited to just the Apple Watch, it will work with any wearable that uses an app that syncs with Apple Health – and that’s a list that includes popular wearables like Jawbone’s Up activity trackers, Withings Activité smartwatches and Polar’s running watches and activity trackers. This allows researchers to gather a larger, more diverse and meaningful amount of data.
Beyond Apple and ResearchKit, Google also wants to use wearables to advance medical research and studies. In June earlier this year, Google’s Google X research division announced a wristband that was
designed specifically for medical research. It will be more accurate than consumer grade activity trackers and it can measure heart rate, heart rhythm, skin temperature and even ambient light exposure and noise levels by the minute.
The intended use of this wristband is for doctors to prescribe them to patients or for use in clinical trials. in future, devices like Google’s wristband will be given to everyone, so that doctors can be alerted to problems and people can catch signs of diseases early.
Like Apple with ResearchKit, Google is hoping that its new wristband will let doctors track their patients more accurately and reliably, especially when they are away from hospital, thereby giving them deeper insights into their conditions and their lives, and also alerting them to any major complications before they can occur. The activity tracker you have on your wrist