Mindfulness and Communication; Wearable Technology and Data Visualization

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Vandrico is an unbiased 3rd party verifier and specialized R&D firm that investigates new technology to help businesses identify the true players on the map. It recently released a database composed of over 118 wearable devices. The site is interactive, enabling researchers to see how many devices have been designed for the chest versus the wrist or ankle, and to which industry the device serves (medical, entertainment, gaming, or lifestyle).

For those out in the world trying to track all these new inventions, Vandrico’s database is a warm relief. Yet, it provides something else other than a detailed analysis of the wearable tech industry. Vandrico gives us the opportunity to take a step back for an objective reflection on what all this stuff is doing, namely recording what it means to be human in the general sense, and what it means to be you in a very personal sense.

With wearable trackers there is a promise that health, vigor, disease, performance, and rest – and ultimately death – are to some extent controllable. According to Vandrico, there are 83 lifestyle devices that collect information like calorie intake, hear-rate and levels of alertness, all of which increase awareness of our everyday behaviors; for infants, breathing and temperature trackers, though not diagnostic, tacitly promise to reduce parental fears over SIDS by providing a constant reading of an infant’s vitals.

At the heart of wearable technology is deepening mindfulness for expanding a patient’s access to health intervention and disease prevention through behavior modification and risk management. This hardware in which we have increasingly become dependent acts as portals to an awareness brought on through aggregated data points and machine learning. Yet understanding and communicating the general human condition or an individual’s activity through data points is tricky. Efforts to beautify these data points in meaningful ways is currently underway with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and Michigan State University’s project, Visualizing Health.

The program is built on the premise that within data and statistics are multiple stories and representations. Redefining the culture of health means resetting language, understanding, and interaction with health.  According to Thomas Goetz and Andrea Ducas in a post on RWJF’s Culture of Health blog, “Our goals was to create a new sort of resource for health professionals: a robust online gallery of images that researchers and health professionals can use, modify, and build on depending on what they’re trying to communicate.”

Browsing the gallery of different representations of why losing weight will reduce chances of heart disease or developing type 2 diabetes demonstrates how this effort supports the context in which wearable technology is employed and valued. The visualizations incentivize the continued use of wearable trackers, while the charts and graphs are at the same time being fed by the conglomerate data collection of wearable technology.

Visualizing Health is for practitioners to share with their patients, to help illustrate risk, incentivize prevention, and communicate overall and detailed health information. For consumers, alongside wearable technology has emerged a long list of applications. Audax Health’s recent acquisition by Optum, a UnitedHealth Group company illustrates an increased importance the health industry sees around effective communication for health and wellness. Audax Health has impressed most with its user experience, where its fine and fun design brings a new level of consumer accessibility to health care. Partnering with wearable technology’s Bodymedia, Withings, Fitbit, and Polar, Audax Health offers engaging health challenges, health assessments, and with Zensey, a personalized health and wellness platform that empowers and motivates with personalized content, online communities, and games.

“Disrupting and innovating the healthcare system” has become a commonplace phrase in and around today’s healthcare industries. But what is less spoken about – and what I believe the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation is really trying to get at in developing a Culture of Health – is the disruption and innovation of the human condition around health and wellness. Wearable technology will help increase awareness and provide information to show the need for behavior change; but, sustainable use and true disruption with this technology can only be had if that need is fundamentally understood by a community or an individual so that the very concept of what it means to have health and wellness is adjusted.

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Susan E. Williams (@estherswilliams) explores experiments at the intersection of health care and technology, particularly around how mobile apps, games and sensory apparatus change the way we pay attention, understand, and make decisions about our bodies, emotions, and behavior. Susan received her BA in cultural anthropology from Columbia University and her MA in East Asian Culture, with an emphasis on Japan, from New York University. She is on the board of Health 2.0 Seattle, and works (and believes) in social media communications for health care and science.

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