Consumers are increasingly looking for ways to integrate technology into every aspect of their lives. In fact, according to a recent survey, seven in 10 consumers reported that they were likely to use at least one health or fitness technology app. It is no secret that digital transformation has hit every industry hard in the last few years, and health is no exception. There are new connected devices and cell phone applications popping up constantly that claim to improve our overall wellbeing by monitoring our behavior and giving us feedback. It is certainly no surprise that people are so willing to incorporate these options into their daily lives given our relatively recent focus on making our health a priority. However, when seeking out connected technology to use for health, there is a difference between simply using these technologies to monitor health and taking clear actions to change our behaviors. In other words, just having a device or an app does not typically lead to dramatic or even meaningful behavior change. So, what is behind the increased trend of wearables and connected devices for health purposes?
Our transformation to more active consumers of health
People are starting to become more active in their own health, and connected devices provide an opportunity for people to track their sleep patterns, exercise results and more. We now have the ability to do so much with the technology at our disposal than ever before.
However, this technology can be a double-edged sword. Consumers like the novelty around health measurement. It seems commonplace now to track your steps, yet just a few years ago step tracking had little meaning for the average consumer. The novelty and the social aspect – others are talking about step tracking – lend these technologies to easy adoption. Adoption is the first step toward creating a healthier life; however, it is only a first step. Changing one’s behavior is far more complicated for most people than tracking steps.
According to Philips’ Future Health Index, while 45 percent of the general population have used connected care technologies, only 24 percent of the general population believe they are actually knowledgeable about them. We are sometimes so overwhelmed by all the information available at our fingertips that we might not be entirely sure what to do with it – there is no tangible next step.
With anything, it comes back to balance
Despite the driving factors of connected technology moving this trend forward, we need to be aware of the ramifications as well. Where sleep is concerned, for example, technology needs to be used in a smart way. Our addiction to technology can certainly interfere with our sleep. Aside from the issue of using too much technology in the bedroom, using connected apps to monitor sleep may sometimes cause people to worry more and sleep less. When these apps are being used, people are often thinking: Am I getting enough sleep? How many hours of sleep did I get last night? Was that more than I slept yesterday? We’re sometimes left more worried with the influx of monitoring that we don’t ever find a solution to the thing we’re worried about; in this case, sleep.
There is a need to shift the mindset with connected devices for personal wellbeing. We need to seek out applications that drive us to actually do something with the data being presented to us, like mindfulness apps for example. One I personally like is Buddhify. Buddhify gives you real-time, actionable steps to bring you into the present moment, matching mindfulness to whatever you’re doing (e.g., working, walking in the city, preparing to sleep, etc.). With over 15 different contexts, the app recognizes that in order to best adopt this healthy practice of mindfulness, we need short instruction matched to our everyday lives. As someone who has taken steps to regularly be more mindful, I can attest to how difficult this is in today’s world, and developers are becoming increasingly aware of that.
One trend within the development of health-related, behavior change technology has been the increasing use of Health Psychology. As a Health Psychologist, I am a bit biased here, but the field has been in existence for several decades and brings to bear experts in how to engage people around health behavior change. I encourage Psychologists to become more involved with these efforts and to learn to work with software developers. I look forward to seeing app developers work more with these health professionals to positively encourage consumers to take healthy actions on a consistent basis by using personal data. Lastly, for people looking to find balance between tracking health and taking action, I recommend finding the technology that works for you to take control of your own wellbeing and using it to supplement your healthy lifestyle.