Kantar Health Blog

Building a community one device at a time

by Brian Mondry | Mar 17, 2015
Brian Mondry

The key attribute consistent across quantified self technology is not wearability but connectivity, specifically the ability to have vital biometric and activity data automatically transmitted from these devices to the Internet, where the it is stored in the cloud for easy access by the individual with the option of sharing data with family members, select groups of friends, doctors and healthcare provider organizations. We have already seen this in the general health and wellness space with Nike, Fitbit and MyFitnessPal providing community extensions for their devices and mobile apps. But the chronic disease space is where the biggest impact will be realized.

For example, a father with a teenage daughter with diabetes can monitor her blood glucose levels from the office or while travelling for business. A working mom with elderly parents who have various health conditions can monitor their vitals throughout the day. An MS patient’s physician network can monitor how a new treatment is affecting mobility and other metrics without the necessity of multiple office visits. A chronic obesity patient’s close circle of friends or fellow patients can hold him or her accountable for BMI and required fitness activity in an encouraging, nurturing manner. With just a web connection and permissions for data access, they can pull the data from the cloud onto their smartphones or PCs, giving all stakeholders peace of mind and an early warning system for any potential medical mishaps.

By leveraging this connectivity, it is likely the future of this space lies in the layering in of a community aspect. Online patient communities will evolve beyond traditional discussion boards to encompass subcommunities of specific connected device users suffering from specific diseases, where biometric and other self-tracking data is shared with fellow patients. So in addition to basic discussions around disease-related issues, these “device community” members will serve as active supporters and cheerleaders for each other, supporting and competing with each other around the metrics specific to each patient community. 

However, an online community of fellow patients using connected devices is just one type of community. The concept can also apply to a family unit, where parents, siblings, sons, daughters and grandchildren monitor and support a sick loved one for everything from proper exercise to medication adherence. It can also apply to a patient’s network of healthcare professionals if a patient is lucky enough to have a physician network open to this idea.

In an online community of diabetics who are using  FDA-approved web-connected glucose monitors, such as those offered by iHealth, each member will willingly share not only their patient profile, opinions and experiences around their condition but also daily/weekly metrics such as blood glucose levels, dietary behavior, fitness activity and medication adherence. Members can support and encourage those who are actively managing their condition and push those who are not. A leaderboard can display those who are excelling around the key metrics, creating a competitive atmosphere that also serves as encouragement. Leaders would be encouraged to continue their regimens to maintain their positions. Stragglers would be encouraged to climb further up the leaderboard.

Similar scenarios can play out in heart disease, obesity and asthma communities with different web-connected devices and metrics. The online community becomes a direct extension of the device. Both are inextricably linked, with the device stimulating community activity, the community stimulating device usage, and both working in conjunction to improve health and save lives.

The device and app alone can work quite well, but there is an historical precedent of people, even those with chronic conditions, not being interested in actively managing their own health. Let’s not forget that older technical initiatives such as educational CD-ROMs and nurse-on-call programs didn’t get much traction when they were introduced years ago. Technology may advance and change, but the same can’t be said for human nature. However, adding communities of actual people to the mix – people who share the same condition, close friends and family members who have a loving stake in a person’s health and well-being – and we will see a transformation in empowered patient disease management.
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