Seeing the fast-growing market for personal connected health devices displayed at the recent Consumer Electronics Show, I couldn’t help but reflect on how far consumer connected health has come. Not too many years ago we spent a lot of energy sorting out how we would get home-derived vitals signs out of a device, out of the home, and into our database. We first used analog phone lines, which are increasingly going the way of the 8-track tape. Cellular communication is exploding so we’re focused in that direction now. It’s not perfect yet, but it is a given that any tracking device you want to employ in connected health can and should be wirelessly enabled so you can easily move its data over the mobile internet. Costs need to go down and there is still some unnecessary technical complexity, but this is problem that is almost solved.
Now what? When you focus on solving a problem so intently it is sometimes hard to look beyond. Wirelessly connected sensors enable an important design principle of connected health: feedback loops. Once you capture the data from these devices, the first important thing to do with it is feed it right back to the consumers/patients from whence it came. Why?
Feedback loops are great for establishing awareness and for changing your mindset about your health.
They help us keep our health top of mind. There is a bit of narcissist in all of us and having the ability to gaze at our health data at a moment’s notice is compelling….for a while.
Inevitably we get bored or distracted. More is required. This figure from our paper on the use of text messaging to promote sunscreen use shows it nicely. The control group (lower curve) had access to a classic feedback loop – a device that recorded each time they used their sunscreen. You can see how their adherence decays quickly. We’ve seen this in many of our studies. It’s quite reproducible. Psychologists call this habituation, meaning once you get used to something, you tend to get bored by it and move onto something else. We are wired to pay attention to shiny new toys! I read about this effect as applied to relationships recently and learned of another term, hedonistic adaptation. I had to chuckle.