Technology has long been blamed for turning us into couch potatoes, whether it’s TV, video games or simply spending more time online. But can it help us be more in control of our health?
That was the topic discussed today at the Wireless Wellness session at SXSW, in a debate between Mark Bertolini, chairman and CEO of US health insurance firm Aetna, and Ina Fried, senior editor, All Things Digital.
Bertolini argues that there are lots of ways technology can help us live healthier lives, and keeping people well is easier and simpler than ever before. “Finding technologies that get people engaged and change behaviour now is the big goal,” he said. “We’ve realised that means making the technology as easy and accessible as possible…until then we’ll focus on the cure.”
As an example, he talked about how pre-diabetes is a condition where high glucose levels are associated with a lack of diet and exercise. It is often spotted so late that people can only be helped with diabetes management. But says Bertolini, what about encouraging people to manage their diet before that stage?
He admits it’s a challenge but says the imperative is the clear link between body weight and chronic disease in the U.S. Another area he believes technology can help with is patient compliance so they correctly take the medications they are prescribed. While some people already use apps to lose weight or stay fit, “it’s the other 40% we want to get to”.
Bertolini believes social media can be more powerful in getting people to be healthier than traditional routes. And Aetna is practicing what he preaches: they have used gamification to encourage people to eat better or engage in exercise, and even compete against each other, helping to keep internal healthcare costs down.
It sounds like so much common sense, and I know from my own Nike+ running app that I love seeing the stats on how many calories I’ve burned, and miles I’ve clocked up. This will be one tech trend we see a lot more of in the near future.