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PERSONALIZING PREVENTION: The Future of Health Technology

By Gillian Christie, Health Innovation Analyst, Vitality Institute and

Derek Yach, Executive Director, Vitality Institute

An era of personalized prevention is taking hold across populations globally. In 1926, rudimentary technological applications for epidemiological surveillance were piloted. In 1995, Nelson Mandela demonstrated the potential of technology by endorsing TELECOM. In 2014, mobile health enables us to track our health wirelessly and in real-time; tomorrow, health technology will be smaller, faster, friendlier, and individualized to usher in personalized prevention.

Tomorrow, health technology will serve to sustainably advance health. It is estimated that two-thirds of individuals who download a mobile health application subsequently terminate use before the benefits of engagement become apparent. Vitality, a workplace health program, has innovatively overcome this by linking personalized health technology – wearable tracking devices and mobile applications – with behavioral economics principles to yield better health outcomes.

Vitality concluded that members who maintained or increased engagement with personalized health technology and who received financial rewards for their healthy activities had better health, lower hospital admissions, and lower healthcare costs than non-members. Using personalized health technology, individuals were nudged so that the healthy choice became the easy choice.

Data from personalized health technology can be analyzed to provide novel insights on health and to predict future health-related events or behaviors. One example is Express Scripts, the pharmacy benefits company for 90 million Americans that processes 1.4 million prescriptions annually.

It has used its prescription data to predict with 98% accuracy 12 months in advance which patients will not adhere to their chronic disease medications. The Apple iWatch and Qualcomm Tricorder XPRIZE are other instances where technology and data are facilitating the emergence of personalized prevention.

Advancements in personalized health technology are not limited to developed countries. Customized sensors, robots, and genetically designed food are improving access to nutritious foods at the base of the economic pyramid, while simultaneously benefiting the environment. Other examples with potential for adaptation and impact can be seen in the Institute for the Future’s Technology Catalysts Map , which presents technologies to impact human and economic vitality out to the year 2025.

Earlier this year, the National Basketball Association (NBA) announced biometric screening for certain teams, only to receive pushback from players. The public is becoming all too familiar with “Big Brother” and companies amassing large swaths of health data with minimal oversight. We contend that overcoming these concerns requires innovative solutions founded on public-private partnerships. As a start, we are partnering with the Institute of Medicine to convene a workshop on the ethical, legal, and social implications of personalized health technology.

Joseph Kvedar, Director of the Center for Connected Health, suggested at the recent mHealth Summit that mobile health be the next technology bubble after the dot-com burst. We believe that any such mobile health bubble will only burst if consumers are cynical of the technology’s benefit or if regulations hamper innovation. Otherwise, personalized prevention is here to stay.

Interested in learning more about the Vitality Institute? Visit our website at http://thevitalityinstitute.org or Tweet at us on Twitter: Gillian Christie @gchristie34, Derek Yach @swimdaily or the Vitality Institute @VitalityInst  

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