How data, social and wearable tech could lead health drive: Exclusive interview with Stephen Davies

By Chris Lee

Wearable tech is all around us, from Google Glass to the Nike Fuel Band, touting Forbes magazine to claim recently that 2013 was “the year of wearable computing and data-driven healthy lifestyles”. One of the UK’s leading authorities on wearable tech is Stephen Davies, a director at London communications consultants Ruder Finn, who specialises in digital communications and digital health.

NMK spoke exclusively to Davies about the possibilities presented by wearable tech.

2013 has been touted as the “year of data-driven healthy lifestyles”. Why? What’s the key driver?

Rather than giving credit to one key driver there really has been a perfect storm of technological advancements that, when put together, allow us to track and improve our health in ways previously impossible.

Wearable technology and more specifically the sensors they use are an important piece of the puzzle. We’re going through an almost revolution-like scenario where sensors are being used to analyse everything from blood sugar to sleep to the health of our internal organs.

The Quantified Self, a movement created by two Wired magazine writers that encourages people to self-monitor to improve their lives, is also a driver of this change. Data interpretation and correlation to make conscious changes to one’s lifestyle is a growing trend.

Finally, the smartphone is the central hub where all this information is gathered, stored and interpreted. It’s the centre point for third-party digital health devices, apps and services.

Let’s talk about fitness first: What apps and wearable tech excite you most right now?

The consumer digital health space is moving very quickly and it’s an exciting time to be an observer of it. Innovation is heating up and lots of companies – large and small – are producing mind-blowing, still-unreleased prototypes of what is essentially the future of how we improve and maintain our health.

Ingestible pills with inbuilt sensors are an exciting new innovation. Having the insight in to how our bodies are working can be a revelation. Likewise sensors which can track the health of our blood via a patch which goes over the skin are ones to watch. Our lifestyle habits depict the quality of our blood and having real-time data presented to us via an app will help people make better nutritional and exercise decisions.

Sensors that monitor our brainwaves are still in their early phase, but imagine in the future when they’ll be able to predict our mood or spot warning signs of depression. Digital health data dashboards such as TicTrac – which pull all this information together and help users make sense of it – all are needed too, as ‘body data’ continues to increase.

This is only what we know is out there too. Lots of this innovation is taking place in stealth mode so the innovation is copied.

In healthcare, what’s being used by health bodies now and what should we look out for in the near future?

Medical healthcare is both innovative and stagnant at the same time. Why in this day and age is my personal medical record not in a digital format? Why is it on paper at an actual building in a physical location? Why can’t I have access – or at least choose to have access – to my health records in digital format?

I suspect the digital health record will be on the agenda in the near future as consumers and officials debate on the feasibility of bringing them into the digital age.

Any predictions on how wearable tech will impact our lives in the next 5-10 years?

Wearable technology is becoming ubiquitous and passive. Already clothing is being developed with technology and sensors woven in to the fibres. Some people are sceptical of Google Glass and whether it will be a success or not but consider the same technology built in to a discreet contact lens.

Wearable tech will become so smart that it will know ourselves better than we do and will be able to predict such things like how productive we are going to be through the day based on our the quality of sleep we had the night before, the food we’ve consumed and our general mood.

The body will have its own API (application programming interface) and will be able to plug in to various services and websites and we’ll be able to trade our data in exchange for discounts and prizes.

The smartphone in ten years’ time will be more powerful and intelligent than the human brain. It really is going to be an exciting ten years.

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