How the quantified self can save lives

by: on 29 May 2015

As part of our OgilvyDo thought leader series, we hear about the state of the quantified self from CES Asia

There is still a widely held assumption that self-tracking is a niche interest, when in fact it is on track to become as commonplace as the selfie

The future of wearable tech and self-tracking apps in the health and wellness sector will be all about quality over quantity, according to the panelists at a quantified self-centric session at CES Asia this week. “I prefer the term ‘qualified self’ personally,” says Dr Steven LeBoeuf, CEO and Co-founder of Valancell, “as it is more about quality data and quality of life.”

Self-tracking has officially gone mainstream

There is still a widely held assumption that self-tracking is a niche interest, when in fact it is on track to become as commonplace as the selfie. “70% of people are using smartphones to access health information,” says Dr Bettina Experton, CEO of Humetrix. “About 30% of mobile apps are used to track health information.”

Fitness was the first industry to really embrace wearables and self-tracking, as the benefits were evident, but the medical sector wasn’t far behind, and the utility of quantified self technology is becoming increasingly apparent. Current uses include muscle sensors which can be embedded in an exoskeleton to aid patients going through physical rehab, and QR codes which provide a link to a person’s medical history and will theoretically make routine health checks and first respondent situations much easier.

And the growing ubiquity of biometrics in everyday life means that users and healthcare professionals are able to harvest pretty much whatever data they want. As LeBoeuf says; “You name it, we got a reference design for it.”

The next step? Preventative care

There is a consensus among experts in this space that preventative care finally has the proof of concept required in order to secure backing by insurance companies and government healthcare providers, meaning these organisations will soon start adopting health monitoring and coaching apps. In fact, these apps are an insurer’s dream, as they provide greater insight than ever before into the lifestyle of a customer. Diabetes treatment provides a great model for this. Continuous glucose monitors and insulin pumps were the first major pieces of wearable tech that gained wide acceptance in a market. These sophisticated body-worn devices help people with diabetes manage insulin levels and blood sugar. Insurance companies support both technologies since the increased cost of the therapy is offset by improvements in health (and health costs) of patients.

Other examples will soon proliferate. “What we are seeing worldwide is really not one-solution-fits-all type of application, it is really customised,” says Stanley Yang, CEO of NeuroSky. The entire panel agreed that in the future, an individual’s specific needs will be accurately identified based on information relating to their age, cultural background and an array of other factors.

Helping doctors, not replacing them

The number of patients per doctor is increasing, says Yang, and quantified self tech poses a major potential solution to this growing problem. “More and more patients are joining the ‘I need help’ rank,” he says. “Technology has to take over, and we are in this very exciting trend right now where I hope everybody is trying to invent something to take over that gap.”

China represents a huge frontier for quantified self-technology over the next few years, says LeBoeuf, as it is a much less litigious country than the US. Combine that ‘carte blanche’ environment for development with China’s growing elderly population, and its overall pragmatic approach to healthcare, and he may well be right.