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Feeling Better: The Power of Health Technologies

Power of Ideas
Feeling Better: The Power of Health Technologies

While technology advancements in health care have been significant and investments in digital health continue, it has not resulted in the vision that Leroy Hood from the Institute for Systems Biology articulated: a health-care system that is characterized by 4Ps (predictive, preventive, personalized, participative) in addition to being sustainable and equitable. Interestingly, as health care shifts from hospitals to ambulatory clinic and retail clinics and now to homes, we have an opportunity to achieve Hood’s vision by intentionally designing our health technology that not only helps us to better understand and improve the health and wellness of individuals but also to take a different team-based/collaborative approach that strengthens the bonds and relationships of families.

I think it is generally accepted that humans are imperfect, and as we apply technology to either personalize or automate processes, there have been unintended consequences such as social isolation and polarization of political views. What if we could better understand context, be a better listener, be more empathetic, and increase our emotional intelligence? What if technology could help us to be better in how we communicate or it made it easier for us to care and love one another? Could technology help us to be better human beings and help us with our health?

Technologies like social media with artificial intelligence have tended to amplify our bias or weaknesses and weaken social structures of families. The Social Dilemma has depicted the implication of AI and a business model that is causing polarization rather than unifying people. The movie pointed out that many social networks exploit our weakness and create addictive behaviors through positive intermittent reinforcement by design.

Could technology help us to be better human beings and help us with our health?

These technologies, while solving a specific problem or creating value, attempt to drive engagement that leverages our susceptibility to addiction while driving traffic and ad revenue. With technology like AI, it is attempting to know who we are and what we want so it can provide the personalization that we all seek, whether it is content (online streaming services) or services (hotel, travel, or with our physicians). In this attempt to personalize, technologies can amplify our biases or weaknesses.

Given these challenges with technologies, the Center for Humane Design proposed a set of key principles. They include prioritizing values rather than engagement as a metric, reinforcing mindfulness “instead of vying for attention,” and binding personal growth with responsibility instead of just maximizing growth for businesses.

How can these principles be applied practically to the home and health? Smart devices that are connected can bring insights that are subtle (mood changes, sleep patterns over time, change in activity in home, etc.). These insights can come from activities of daily living (basic tasks that people normally do without assistance such as bathing, eating, dressing, etc.) or perhaps more importantly from instrumental activities of daily living, which require more complex thinking skills and are essential for people to function in their communities independently (e.g., cooking, driving, using computers, shopping, finance management, laundry, managing medications, etc.). I would propose that we can use the above data to improve our understanding of needs and context that will allow us to reinforce social network through various means such as encouragements (based on mood or events), reminders (scheduling, upcoming special events, etc.), and sharing (memories, meals, etc.).

To stimulate further discussions and collaboration, I am proposing the following set of design principles for future health technologies in the home that I believe will strengthen our relationships while improving our health.

Design Principles for Health Technologies in Home

  • Understands humans’ core needs include being loved and ability to love others (love languages, emotional intelligence, etc.)

    • Increases positive social engagement with family

    • Teaches emotional intelligence and empathy

    • Understands and capture/share the needs

  • Detect and address bias and blind spots

    • Recognizes our weaknesses and biases and makes us better as humans

    • Recognizes the imperfection, diversity, and differences of humans and rather than exploit the bias, supports a reinforcement approach to unifying family relationships

  • Technology treats wellness and health care as a spectrum and correlates the behaviors to health; technology also understands and learns behavior patterns in wellness.

  • Understands that health is a team sport with family/friends as a necessary support system and resource; technology enhances relationships via:

    • Communication (nudge, etc.)

    • Service (actions—food delivery, rewards, etc.)

    • Empathy (encouragement)