The Health Tech Obsession
It’s 2019 and it seems like the whole world is obsessed with health technology.
Even I work in health tech. ME! Not really the obvious sector that my 19-year-old self envisioned for the future.
However, this is the path the universe has nudged me on and I am beyond fascinated. So fascinated that I want to expand my knowledge and dive further into this wonderful world of robotics, sensors, big data and AI weaved together with health, science and analytics.
What is it about this field that has grabbed the attention of so many of us? By us, I am not just talking about you and me, but also multi-billion dollar companies such as Alphabet, Amazon and Apple. Why are they interested? WHY AM I What is actually happening? Why the “sudden” interest from so many parties?
I write sudden in quotation marks, because the shift has actually not been that sudden.
Think about it. Slowly but surely this health tech surge has been conditioned into our lives, one app at a time.
I am talking FitBit, NikeFuel and Apple’s Health app. They are all designed to do the same things - track movements, collect data, analyse and give feedback.
And admit it. We all love analysing ourselves 😊
No wonder scientists, researchers and tech wizards keep thinking: well, what else can we do? How can we push this technology further?
Health and technology was always an inevitable match.
Technology in general is inevitable. Wherever we go, whatever part of the world – technology is there to welcome us.
Simultaneously, if I dare say, I believe technology has made us lazy. We have apps for absolutely every thing. We don’t have to look up curious subjects in books anymore (thank you Google), the concept of takeaway food is pretty much dead (hello UberEats) and when was the last time you physically made a photo album (I love you Instagram).
Come to think of it, lazy might be the wrong word. What I am aiming at is the constant hunger to be as productive as possible - which is quite the opposite of lazy.
Everything needs be actioned instantly. We’re all getting shit done at an incredibly impressive pace. The heads of our forefathers would spin trying to keep up with us.
But hey, this is what innovating is all about. Just think about Henry Ford and his revolutionary assembly line. Or the entire industrial revolution. It was all about productivity. Us humans have always evolved and that’s what we’re still doing – evolving and innovating along the way!
That’s where analytics come in. By providing useful data, we can constantly improve our actions for better outcomes. Analytics guide us in the right direction and teach us how to best evolve.
And sometimes (as we evolve) we find that by being innovative, productive and gathering data we can do some pretty magical things. Note: scientists will hate the word magical, but I think it’s a nice adjective to use every now and again.
In some sectors, innovation is absolutely vital. What would we do without MRI scanners, heart monitors and EKG machines? Imagine how many lives these innovations have saved. Hospitals desperately need innovation because the entire health industry is built around productivity. And thankfully they have opened their arms to it.
Another sector starving for innovation? Aged Care.
We all know the major challenges this industry is currently facing (I hope). I won’t get into the specifics, but everyone’s best friend, Google, will tell you if you simply search ‘Aged Care Australia’.
These challenges and the desperate need for change have evoked innovation.
I know this, because Sleeptite, the company I work for, is an aged care focused health tech company. We saw it coming – the tsunami of older Australians that we, as a country, cannot afford to take care of.
We know it. And so does Alphabet (Google), Amazon and Apple.
Google Nest, the division that sells home automation products, is exploring new products to help seniors live independently longer.
In 2016, Amazon sent all their employees on a bus tour to learn about ageing Americans. Many of the company’s new hires have since had a background in healthcare.
And then of course we have everyone’s favourite tech treat – Apple, which now has up to 50 doctors on staff for health tech work.
In other words, it is all happening. Innovation in health and aged care is the next big thing.
Where does Sleeptite stand in all of this? Well, we saw the danger in nurse-to-patient ratios and nighttime falls.
As a result, we are developing a non-invasive resident monitoring system that utilizes extremely flexible sensors embedded into bedding materials. This system will alert nurses and carers to any areas of concern relating to a resident’s well-being through the course of a night.
The sensors and the system will be used as a tool to help the carers prioritise their time (to be more productive) and ensure the residents feel safe while receiving a good, undisturbed night’s sleep.
The innovation also compliments the more popular “aging in place” trend, helping elderly people stay at home longer; making sure friends and family can help monitor them with more ease.
THIS is human kind evolving. This is innovation. This is productivity-ness.
However, will the older generation be receptive? Will they accept these sometimes drastic changes?
Tech companies will without a doubt change the way we manage our health. But tech has always changed the way we lead our lives (again: Google, UberEats, Instagram). Thankfully we are very adaptable.
This we is not just generations X, Y and Z, but even the Baby Boomers. How many of our grandparents are now in possession of iPhones or have a social media presence? They can actually keep up (sometimes even with the Kardashians).
I think the real skepticism lies with the unknown; the data collection and the privacy questions of who manages it - the idea of a big brother who sees and knows everything.
Which leads me to…
Sleeptite CEO, Cameron van den Dungen, was recently asked to join a RMIT University keynote panel that addressed exactly this. What is ethical innovation? How can we implement this at the same rapid rate as we are innovating? Sure guidelines and regulations are great, but are they enough?
These are all important questions to ask and consider, especially in health tech.
In the midst of all this wonderful innovation one must remember the human. The flesh and blood person whose job AI might steal one day, or the 84-year-old resident who is being monitored and worries about the elusive cloud that is collecting her data. We must make it a priority to create safeguards and not under-prioritise our most basic human rights.
This is something to think about. Something we all need to work towards.
But seriously, it is without a doubt an exciting time.
When I started my professional career I was a totally different person than who I am now.
Just like the world turns, time passes and seasons change – so do we (très cliché, I know). But change and innovation is all around us – in all aspects of life. Again, we are humans – we simply evolve, create, adapt, and innovate pretty magical things along the way.
By Sheida Danai