I am just back from my Geekathon sojourn to the Annual Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, and it would be an understatement to say that I was left with many strong impressions. While many of the the gadgets and imagination on display were truly amazing, one of the biggest takeaways for the week came from one simple concept.
It was a session on wearable technology called “Making the Most of Your Wearable Data”, and one of the presenters, Fotini Markopoulou made a very interesting contribution. The founder of Doppel, a wearable tech company that “uses cutting edge research in psychophysiology”, Markopoulou stated that wearable tech will “ultimately fail” if it simply continues to collect data. Her contention is that people slowly lose interest in the novelty of the current iteration of devices, and the next generation of wearable technology must contribute to or enhance our life experience. In other words, these devices won't just monitor certain biometric criteria; they will enhance, correct or improve the condition they are tasked with monitoring.
Markopoulou's company Doppel has designed a wearable device intended to monitor stress levels and provide active feedback to the wearer in the form of a tapping that runs in sync with the wearers heartbeat. The pace can be adjusted for situations reflecting the need for calm, or those requiring more aggressive stimuli. While I make no effort to judge or analyze the validity and effectiveness of that particular device mission, I think the concept she has struck upon is a solid one. And it is an evolution we will need to see before wearable technology meets its full potential for medical applications within the workers' compensation community.
Markopoulou made the comment that experience will always trump data in the human condition, and she is right in her assertion. The wearable technology of the very near future will be enabled to perform tasks as well as monitor conditions. There are signs we are well on our way down that path.
Several weeks ago Google submitted patent applications for a wearable device that will test blood. This “wearable lab” would inject a small pellet into the skin via a burst of compressed gas, and then vacuum the pellet back into the device for analysis (Google is also developing smart contact lenses that will monitor diabetes and glaucoma). While these are, at their core, still monitoring devices, they serve physical functions that replace other more intrusive measurement methods – thereby enhancing the experience of the wearer/patient. A college student, whose father was an Iraq war veteran who suffered night terrors as a result of PTSD, has invented a wearable item designed to prevent that phenomena. The system monitors a persons heartbeat and movements as he or she sleeps, tracking the symptoms that precede night terrors. At the onset of these behaviors, the app will vibrate or make a sound to disrupt the deep sleep but allow the person to keep resting.
As noted, improving the experience of the user will be a key in insuring the success of the wearable concept.
We are only scratching the surface of what may be possible. Wearable devices that can dispense medication, provide biofeedback and can both monitor and adjust a patients vitals are very real possibilities. Devices such as these will improve quality of life with real time application and treatment, and that “improved experience” will help our industry drive better results at an ultimately lower cost.
Wearable technology has provided us with some very interesting products to date. Still, we are in our infancy in this arena. To be really effective and successful, the wearable revolution needs at least one more evolution. An evolution that takes this medium from that of casual observer to mobile clinician; from simple data collector to partner in health. That is when we will see real benefits and results from wearable technology in all health delivery systems.