I Wish I Had Six-Pack Abs!

I’m sure that somewhere under the doughy layer of energy I stored up for the winter lies at least the potential for abs.  I’m not sure why I don’t have a chiseled midriff.  After all, I own P90X.  I’ve had it for years.  A brand new, mint condition, still-in-the-box copy of P90X.  If it were an original Luke Skywalker action figure it would be worth a fortune.

But sadly it’s not.  It’s just a reminder that I’ll go out and buy the coolest new whatever, I’ll get it home, and there it will remain, sitting in the box.  How’s this for irony?  The reason I need it is because I’m flabby.  And I’m flabby because I’m lazy.  And because I’m lazy, my P90X is still in the box mint condition.  So the reason I need P90X and a 21-year old athlete doesn’t is exactly the reason why P90X doesn’t make a Difference (with a capital D, so you know I mean an Important difference, with a capital I).  Sure, from a marketing standpoint, this product is spot on.  But from a societal perspective?  Not so much.

Where am I going with this?

Well, I read a short article in Time Magazine recently by Yves Béhar about a concept he has for LifeTiles, wearable sensors that monitor individual health and manage chronic disease.  And I thought about the torrent of wearable sensors that are out now or coming out – exercise arm bands, the smart watches, the rumored Google contact lenses for diabetics, a cool looking, must-have, top secret Apple something or other – and I thought that from a marketing standpoint, wearable sensors are spot on.  I’m not sure I had even heard of a wearable sensor a few years back, and now when I Google it I get 4,570,000 hits (in 0.53 seconds).  Global sales for wearable technology are projected to reach $8.3 billion by 2018, with the United States accounting for 80% of the market.

These sensors aim to improve the health of our population, aid us in chronic disease management, and look really cool to boot.  But they won’t.  Because the people who need them the most aren’t the 20 something joggers wearing their Fitbits and Fuelbands and Ups.  They’re the overweight diabetics with congestive heart failure and a predilection for trans fats and good times.

It doesn’t matter how many healthy, fit people use wearable sensors.  From a societal standpoint it won’t change anything.  You know why?  Because they’re already healthy.  They’re already jogging and eating smart and staying in shape and they were doing all this long before wearable sensors came around.  And that’s probably why I’ve never had a 21-year old athlete come to see me in the ER because his armband told him to.

And the people who don’t take care of themselves, the 34.9% of us who the CDC says are obese?  We’ll buy the latest and greatest gadgets too, but they’ll stay in the box.  In a March 2014 issue of Forbes, Broadcom CEO Scott McGregor stated that “many of these devices are going to be like New Year’s resolutions – they’ll get a lot of attention and joy for the first few weeks before ending up in a drawer.”

So what’s the answer?  We’ll never scrap wearable sensors, and we never should.  The market has too much potential and intuitively, the idea makes sense.  The key is figuring out what to do with this data.  How do we make it meaningful?  Because we already have plenty of data.  We don’t need more.  I don’t know of a single health care provider who feels hamstrung by lack of data.  No one has enough time to sort through the data we do have.  And how does it help to know that I walked up thirty flights of stairs?   So what?  If I’m less winded now climbing those stairs than I was last month, who cares what my armband says?  If my size 36 jeans are falling off of me, who cares how many calories my watch says I burned?  I don’t need a pair of i-glasses to tell me that I’m watching too much television.  Common sense and my poor work ethic tell me that.  And anyway, no amount of data is going to convince me that binge watching House of Cards is bad for me.

I don’t need more data.  As a father, as a consumer, as a physician, as a guy with a paunch, I have more than enough data as it is.  What I need, what is truly helpful, what is absolutely transformative, is a cognitive platform embedded in or linked to the device that will analyze the data for me, tell me what it means, spoon-feed me the conclusions.  I need the “so what.”  What’s compelling about Yves Béhar’s concept isn’t that it purports to measure and collect data, it’s that it plans on using algorithms to draw conclusions from the data and use these conclusions to provide specific health recommendations to the users.

What makes wearable technology a kick butt, take no prisoners, game changing, top-of-the-world concept isn’t that it passively collects data, but what it could do with that data.  That’s what’s transformative.  That’s what’s compelling.  And I know that I may still not have a six-pack, but one day the smart sensors in my man-girdle will not only measure my blood pressure and heart rate while I sleep and when I climb stairs, but they will also tell me what it means and why I should care.  And that’s when we as a society will collectively take our Smart Spanxes out of the box and realize better health.

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