The consumerisation of IT could empower and divide citizens over healthcare

Over the last couple of years a tidal wave of wearable technologies has entered the marketplace, which has changed the perception of fitness. Now at lunchtime, rather than going for the obligatory pint at the pub on a Friday, people are checking their fitness apps and Nike Fuel Band to see if they’ve done enough exercise in the day to deserve it. If anything, these devices encourage people to be more aware of their food intake, exercise and overall health and wellbeing.

This morning I woke up to the news that a US electronic medical record company has created the first “”wearable health record” app for Google Glass. With patients’ permission doctors can record consultations using the device.

And last week Apple revealed its new app for tracking fitness and wellbeing. Healthkit will aggregate information from various other health apps including Nike Fuelband

But can this technology improve our medical care and even the NHS? Can the health industry take on some of these technologies to improve the lives of citizens?

These ideas were addressed at a discussion on the role of technology in public health at a TechUK event in London this week.

The discussion was held under Chatham House Rules which means I can’t reveal who said what, but the overall consensus was that while technology could potentially revolutionise the health industry, we need to be ever-so-careful not to let that technology build up a wall between the digital savvy and the 11 million people in the UK who struggle to connect to internet.

One attendee told the story about a 90-year old woman who had caught the Apple-bug and used her iPad for everything. But she was becoming really frustrated that she couldn’t email her doctor her observations on a weekly basis rather than trekking down to the surgery.

But another attendee said that while a heart rate or blood pressure internet-abled device could save an elderly person the weekly journey, they argued that person may also like the excuse to go down to the doctors or Post Office in order to get out of the house to combat loneliness.

The panel agreed that we can’t assume on behalf of those suffering from the digital divide what might be best for them.

Speaking to Computer Weekly after the event, Luciana Berger, MP, shadow public health minister of the Labour Party said: “We need to focus on making sure we’re not in any way widening health inequalities by putting forward technology solutions.”

“We need to empower people and give them the choices to do what they want to do,” she said. “But how can we make sure everyone has access to that information?”

While she is concerned about the digital divide, she is excited by solutions such as Apple’s recent Healthkit. “How many million users have an iPhone in the UK?” she said.

She also said that the NHS is one of the top three priorities to UK voters, and Labour is well aware of how important it is. In that case perhaps we will see some technology-related health issues raised in their election campaign over the next year?