Can the fitbit change my behaviour?

Date: 17/12/2015 Written by: Kelly 4 minutes to read.
Tech for good

Over the last year or so we have heard a lot about wearables. This month I attended a conference in London showcasing everything from head sensors and wearable heart monitors to period pants and florescent 'invisible paint' - all promising to change the way we live our life - and I have to admit to getting a tad bit excited about some of them. The google glass fused with a head sensor so my brain can take a picture (without the click of a button) and the interactive world where you step in simply by wearing some hi-tech glasses left me feeling like I had stepped into a scene of Star Wars. Could these gadgets really be in our homes this time next year? Some I hope will and let me tell you why. Some really do have the power to change and save lives. 

The British Red Cross asked me to present to them the products I think are 'gamechangers'. One of the products I highlighted was 'Bee' which transmits insulin injection data and glucose levels via Bluetooth to your smartphone and tablet. 

Managing your insulin injections and blood sugar levels is painstaking work, and often patients lose track.  'Bee' helps patients by creating a log book of insulin injection and blood sugar level data which they can share with their loved ones and healthcare providers. Last week I heard about plans by Google to introduce the contact lens that measures blood glucose levels. Who would have thought our favourite search engine were potential medical inventors?

Another favourite of mine is the Lilypad - A UV sensor that floats in a pool and tells you how much sunscreen you should put on your kids. Some of these products are simply amazing - and could change lives. Liftware (now owned by Google) is another great product. It is a spoon. But a special kind of spoon. It counteracts hand tremors - great for people who struggle to use a conventional spoon while eating. The "stabilizing handle" uses a series of motion sensors that can distinguish between unwanted hand tremors and intended movements. When a tremor is detected, motors inside the handle move it in the opposite direction, thereby reducing the incidence of food spillage while eating. The product works best for individuals with mild to moderate tremors.

One such product with a promise is the fitbit - a wearable that is now 'mainstream' and and over the course of the next few months I will be testing this on myself. I have a goal - like most people at this time of year - to get Christmas out of the way and then start on the path of healthy eating and fitness. Two years ago I managed to shift 16 inches and 20 pounds with sheer hard work in the gym and sensible eating. Unfortunately I managed to put it all back on and now i'm in that horrible place of starting again. Fitbit was not around two years ago when I was 'in that place' but I did find myself obsessed with data at the time and it helped to keep me motivated. The Fitbit delivers the kind of data I need to help me make informed decisions. Such as: should I run more, what is my heart rate, did I sleep ok last night? 

But it is not just me who is interested in whether my behaviour changes as a result of a wearable. As an organisation who is increasingly looking at products that change behaviour we are extremely curious about the Fitbit and any other wearable that promises to help you move more. 

Data, data and even more data...

There is no doubt that we are in the middle of an explosion in the amount of data that exists about the health of individuals. Researchers like us are really keen to get our hands on this type of data as it has the potential to tell us so much more about people than we have ever known before. Traditional research techniques are mainly focused on examining average responses but with this richer data we can begin to understand variation. The exciting part about this data is that it is consumer or patient led. And that changes everything in research. 

The challenge with this data (apart from the sheer volume) is availability. Will citizens freely share their data for medical research? Some are, but some aren't and for these people organisations that use or need this data must be transparent about the way that people’s health data is going to be used. While there is an understandable degree of concern around the privacy of medical information, the present debate is exclusively focused on the risks and this needs to change. Currently we are failing to 'sell' the opportunities that this digital world offers us and as a result we could be missing a trick or two. Or worse, we could be delaying that next big invention that saves lives. 

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