Big data and design make us healthier

by Marina Peluso

Big data and design make us healthier
Big data and design make us healthier
Health coaching and gamification can improve chronic illness management

There is a mantra of sorts that everyone seems to repeat when talking about digital health: technological solutions have the potential to heavily impact patients’ care. But what does this statement mean?

According to the World Health Organization, chronic diseases are the leading causes of death and disability worldwide. Scientists claim that most of these conditions, which include diabetes, cardiovascular illness and even cancer, can be prevented and/or managed adopting a healthy lifestyle that includes physical activity and proper nutrition. People are well informed about these and most everyone is in agreement about the benefit of a healthy diet and an active routine. Nonetheless, the number of people diagnosed with diabetes continues to increase sharply every year. It seems that scientific medicine, based on mathematical and statistical models, does not take into account real life issues and people’s psychological burden. Therefore, which are the possible ways to have an impact on people's habits, to help them manage their health in a better way?

Coach. Play. Connect.

Fredrik Debong, presenting his successful start-up experience at Frontiers Health 2016, clearly answered this question, drawing the attention on how important it is to change people's mind-set towards their health conditions in order to obtain better health outcomes. This is what he and his co-founder did by creating MySugr, a digital health platform that helps people to deal with their diabetes day to day.

What Mr. Debong found out, by living with type-2 diabetes himself, is that there is a gap between patients' need of support and what the healthcare system provides, which usually consists of only a 15 minutes meeting with a doctor every three months. Even though patients define the strategy of their therapy with the doctor, they still have to make a lot of decisions on their own, without real support each and every day:

Diabetes sucks because it changes everything in your life: what to eat, how to handle sports, how much insulin to inject, how to do everything. It’s about 50 decisions everyday. It’s a big psychological burden.

MySugr makes the therapy something that can be enjoyed thanks to three elements: blood sugar monitoring, personal coaching and gamification, all combined in a very well designed app, which has been recognised as a medical device both in US and Europe.

Make it sexy and collect data

MySugr’s gamified diabetes platform shows how digital solutions can come in handy when the goal is to affect people’s habits: providing personalised support in real life situations. Nevertheless, delivering a health impact is not everything that’s needed. Digital health solutions need to demonstrate their clinical efficacy, but they also have to be "sexy", to drive an appeal that goes beyond the intended clinical outcomes.
In this sense, design and UX are unavoidable requirements of a successful app. Users should actually enjoy their daily experience interacting with the digital device, otherwise they will soon get bored and give up. Having many active users is a main index of success of a health digital solution, not only because it means the app is popular, but also because it allows to collect big amount of data that can be analysed.
Well-designed health app, in fact, can provide real world data without clinical bias, which can be used for research purpose. MySugr users, for example, represent a very well controlled population for observational studies that can lead to even better disease management and prevention.

Frontiers Health was an opportunity to discover that many other start-ups are working on similar concepts. Amicomed, for example, is a program that helps people manage hypertension with personalised coaching and daily life support; while Paginemediche, in Italy, has the ambitious project of building a customised and integrated health platform where people can find medical advices and patients’ community in one place. What these digital health solutions have in common is the opportunity to collect users data in order to provide customised health services and contributing to a personalised medical approach.

Technology and "healthification"

Frontiers Health 2017 has shown that digital health is not a niche field for healthcare insiders, but that it is growing into a multidisciplinary ecosystem that can actually drive better outcomes and even save lives.
Digital technology can drive unprecedented power and control on health outcomes; the investment growth in this sector validates an on-going cultural process that is affecting almost every kind of industry. In our case it can be called “healthification” as it describes an increasing attention towards health and a overall tendency to highlight healthy values.
Health is not just another aspect of our daily life affected by digital technology; the digital revolution is also boosting the healthification process, allowing all of our regular activities (such as work, travels, food, social relationships) to become integrated in our lives, and drivers of better health.

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