Health Tech and You: Leading in the personalisation of health care

By Matt James, Senior Researcher at 2020health

AXAPPP-21The weather might have not have been particularly spring like but the Design Museum certainly lit up the waterfront beside the Thames in a vivid display promoting the Health Tech and You Awards (HT&Y) ceremony.

Inside the atmosphere was no different: bursting with life and buzzing with anticipation of the announcement of the various category winners. The evening really was a celebration of some of the best in personal health technology innovations. Thanks to the dedication and skill of the curation team the HT&Y exhibition celebrates a unique mix of innovative entries from individuals, designers, developers, entrepreneurs and healthcare professionals from the UK and around the world.

Where do we go from here?

But as the initial fervour of this year’s awards dies down and the public exhibition continues to run at the Design Museum until 26 April 2015, what next for HT&Y? Where do we go from here?

ExhibitionAs the text on one of the exhibition walls boldly declares: “This is a health tech revolution”. Revolutions speak of an overthrowing of an existing pattern of doing things in favour of adopting a new approach. This is a revolution that we are all still very much living through with new devices and solutions coming onto the market every month. This is precisely one of the reasons HT&Y will continue to champion the and inspire entrepreneurs be they designers, clinicians or the public to reach new heights of innovation.

The underlying values of the HT&Y initiative is that advances in digital technology will create a greater sense of patient autonomy and professional accountability, helping to empower citizens and patients to become more active participants in their medical care. Digital health becomes more than just delivering more efficient care, but better quality care as well.

Take for example mobile devices which are playing an increasing role in the digital economy. Experiencing more growth than computer sales worldwide, mobile devices are  helping to drive the digital economy ever further. In 2013 mobile phone subscriptions worldwide reached nearly 7 billion in 2013 so it is perhaps not surprising to think that most people have a mobile phone. What is more astounding to read is that the number of mobile devices that exist in the world already exceeds the world’s population. Where once mobile web usage was one of the primary functions of the mobile phone (alongside the obvious making and receiving of calls), this has been superceded by the growth in mobile app.  Exercise, body weight and dieting apps are amongst the most popular downloaded health apps. As Miah & Riches note, the increasingly ubiquitous presence of mobile devices ensures their place as a core driver of health engagement.

Transforming the digital divide

But is simply having greater access to new technology helping to bolster people’s health? Not necessarily and this is my key point. Whilst technology has closed one divide, it has opened up another. It is to this scenario that the HT&Y initiative can respond.

Greater access to technology has reduced the digital divide, but the transformation in digital platforms from Web 1.0 (passive receiver of information) to Web 2.0 (user generated content, interoperability, collaboration) has opened up the digital literacy divide. Depending upon a person’s digital literacy skills will help to determine their capacity to experience that greater level of autonomy, personal insight and understanding of health and professional accountability which digital health was supposed to usher in.

Acknowledging this helps to pose exciting possibilities for the future.  The health tech revolution is not just about more tech per se. It is also about recasting our learning and understanding of the body and health beyond the traditional sites this has occurred in previously.  As Miah & Riches comment, “What took place in each of these areas of society was locked behind institutional systems, such as schools, universities, doctor‘s surgeries and hospitals”. This has relevance to not just citizens but also clinicians, tech developers and innovators.

The mobile device and its growing capability power represents the democratisation of health in a way we have yet to understand or truly articulate.

In the next blog we will explore the conditions required to make that transformation.

About Julia Manning

Julia is a social pioneer, writer and campaigner. She studied visual science at City University and became a member of the College of Optometrists in 1991, later specialising in visual impairment and diabetes. During her career in optometry, she lectured at City University, was a visiting clinician at the Royal Free Hospital and worked with Primary Care Trusts. She ran a domiciliary practice across south London and was a Director of the UK Institute of Optometry. Julia formed 20/20Health in 2006. Becoming an expert in digital health solutions, she led on the NHS–USA Veterans’ Health Digital Health Exchange Programme and was co-founder of the Health Tech and You Awards with Axa PPP and the Design Museum. Her research interests are now in harnessing digital to improve personal health, and she is a PhD candidate in Human Computer Interaction (HCI) at UCL. She is also dedicated to creating a sustainable Whole School Wellbeing Community model for schools that builds relationships, discovers assets and develops life skills. She is a member of the Royal Society of Medicine’s Digital Health Council. Julia has shared 2020health's research widely in the media (BBC News, ITV, Channel 5 News, BBC 1′s The Big Questions & Victoria Derbyshire, BBC Radio 4 Today, PM and Woman's Hour, LBC) and has taken part in debates and contributed to BBC’s Newsnight, Panorama, You and Yours and ITV’s The Week.
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