2012: The Future of Health

Apple revolutionized an industry, creating beautifully designed and superbly functioning products.  How?  Rethinking.  By fundamentally questioning what a computer can be, Apple creates what a computer will be.  The same principle applies to health.  What is wellness?  What is it to be healthy?  How do I get there? This varies for each person.  Some of us want to quantify everything.  Others entertain a gentle curiousity about specific topics like cooking or fitness.  A growing percentage of our population needs help managing chronic disease.  Enter health 2.0.

Soon your health will literally be in your hands. Roughly 9,000 health related apps are available on iPhone, with about 14% of Americans utilizing at least one.  The tipping point for virality is 15-18% market saturation.  We are almost there.  Innovation Management predicts 600 million wellness downloads in 2012 alone.  These stats are almost as impressive as the tools they describe.

Rather than walk you through the novel that this complete story would be, we introduce here some of the fiercest new startups worth more than their products.  They are defined by their ideas. These fresh teams exude the awesomeness of Apple by building first a philosophy that challenges the status quo and then delivering with elegant simplicity the tools, apps, products, and websites that will become the foundations of tomorrow’s greatest health innovations.  Welcome to the future.

Gamifications like DailyFeats and the just launched Careverge illuminate how social networks will help us build healthier and happier lives.  Imagine, for example, how Facebook would change if you could easily identify friends who share similar wellness interests.  You could find a tennis partner in a flash without having to announce in a status to all of your friends that you’re looking for one.  DailyFeats and Careverge will effectively allow just that, facilitating communities around mutual interests in a fun and rewarding atmosphere.  Added benefits include real prizes for positive behavior (Amazon gift cards, raffles) and straightforward discovery engines that deliver information algorithmically determined to be interesting to you.  Think Netflix for health.

In 2012, design takes a front row seat.  Consider WellnessFX, a San Francisco startup that aims to create tools that help people “collect, organize, manage and interpret data.”  The goal is for you to be able to make “informed decisions that drive actual results.”  Your health is in your hands.  These tools exist to lighten the burden through streamlined educational interfaces such as visualized lab work and custom medical consults.

New ideas in nutrition are making waves in the scientific research community thanks to radical improvements in real time medical imaging and big data analytics from companies such as Pacific Biosciences (left, Glycoprotein AGP molecular complex).  Functional analysis of biochemical processes common across lifeforms regularly alters the way we understand human health.  You can now see how six feet of DNA fits into each of the 100 trillion cells in your body and explore the neural basis of consciousness.  Science paves the way for a brighter, more informed and well-designed future.  For example, we now know that consuming meals encompassing several key families of phytonutrients, something as simple as eating plants of different colors, enhances the function of certain cellular metabolic reactions and upregulates many beneficial cycles in the body.

Albert Einstein called imagination “a preview of life’s coming attractions,”  What might the world of health technology look like in two years?  A plethora of  biometric data wirelessly and securely syncs to my personal iCloud, enabling real-time readings on activities such as sleep, exercise and nutrition.  Social health will allow me to discover both new content and friends with similar interests. This will effectively broaden my knowledge base.  I will be able to look back at a data rich timeline, learning from failure and optimizing improvements.   This fuels my ability and desire to live a healthy, happy life.  As the future should.

Which brings me to the Jawbone UP.

Great innovations have often come from groups that curate a fresh take on an idea and are subsequently able to see the existing information and tech through a new lens.  DailyFeats was founded by two brothers who originally built a large IT organization.  Careverge, a $16 million company, is stocked with game designers and led by a 22 year old CEO.  Recall, as a throwback, that the Wright brothers, who built and flew the first airplane, got their wings by building bikes.  Jawbone has not fundamentally altered the world of health..yet.

The first generation of UP notoriously failed (that is, commercially; I still wear mine).  The ideas and passion that built it did not.  The UP is an ambitious leap for a company known for Bluetooth headsets and hot little JAMBOX speakers.  The Jawbone UP tracks movement, sleep, and meals.  It wakes me up in the morning with a gentle smart alarm.  It reminds me to move when I sit for 45 minutes (as I have just done while writing this article).  What could it do?

Could UP automatically link with my Facebook friends?

Could UP suggest a challenge for my team based on activities I already do?

Could UP vibrate not just to remind me to move, but to remind me to sit straight while typing?

“The next era of personal technology is about products that adapt to the way we live. The best technology will reliably and seamlessly take the friction out of any experience.”

Referencing MotionX, the accelerometer tech company that powers UP, Jawbone CEO Hosain Rahman understands the future of tech because his company is creating it.  All of the above companies, including Sterling Health, play a role in how we as individuals, groups and larger communities experience life well-lived.

Apple does not ask users what they want.  They learn from what you do.  The same concept applies to health.  When a wonderful new service such as Genomera hits the web which allows crowd-sourced health studies, sign up to participate.  Join Wikilife and “keep it together” by helping create a Wikipedia of anonymous health data that researchers can learn from.  Scientists have made great breakthroughs thanks to the availability of data.  It changes everything.  Entire knowledge frameworks are built by aggregating information into a whole greater than the sum of its parts.

The Milken Institute estimates that chronic disease annually costs the US $1.3 Trillion.  About 70% of these diseases such as Type II Diabetes, hypertension and heart disease, are “lifestyle induced,” meaning they are primarily caused by chronic unhealthy lifestyles.  The US GDP for 2011 is $15.1 Trillion, which means that 6% of the total US GDP is spent on preventable diseases.   These killers dilapidate more than just health; they slowly erode confidence, well-being, productivity and happiness.  According to the US Census Bureau, the US has about 4.4% (310 million people) of the world’s estimated population (7 billion).  The redesign of health thus has vast global implications.

The health firms of tomorrow will collectively create something more than any individual technology or company.  Together, we are collaborating to develop the ideas that will redefine behavior strategy; build communities; gamify and reward your healthy lifestyle; communicate the latest scientific breakthroughs; make the complexity of the human body understandable and shape the way our world grows up well.

John Q. Adams said that “If your actions inspire others to dream more, do more, learn more, and become more, you are a leader.”  Anyone can be a leader by inspiring healthy behavior.  Harvard Researcher Nicholas Christakis famously found that behaviors and habits spread through social networks.  Every time you make a choice, be it positive or negative, healthy or unhealthy, you impact the culture around you.  Health centric choices help build the lifestyle of the community in which you live.  In this respect, the future of health is scaled decision making, and it starts with you.

Every small choice, every decision, matters.   When we as members of society make better choices, we are collectively changing the world, even if we individually don’t realize it.  Test it:  try eating a salad lunch for a week and watch in wonder as at least one of your coworkers follows suit.  If every American made one better decision each day, we would have 310 million better decisions each day.  That has an impact.  Just as every serving of vegetables helps your body’s biochemical integrity, every positive choice helps your willpower to make more good choices.  Health is more than just health; it’s your life.  Live well.  The future of the world depends on it.


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