Above:  Rajiv Mehta, a keynote speaker at HIC 2012 this week

By Keryn Curtis

‘Self-tracking’ technologies are quietly revolutionising the way we understand and manage healthcare, with important implications for older people and the people involved in their care, according to US health technology strategist and consultant, Rajiv Mehta.

‘Self-tracking’ is a fast growing branch of personal healthcare technologies designed to empower us to better understand and manage our own health. It includes devices, websites, programs and ‘apps’, available from your computer, smart phone, tablet or other electronic gadget that can record and monitor your work, sleep, exercise, diet, mood and other aspects of your daily life.

Mr Mehta, who is in Sydney this week as a keynote speaker at the Health Informatics Society of Australia (HISA) annual conference says the plethora of new personally controlled technologies available now can substantially improve the quality, efficiency and experience of a whole range of ‘mundane’ but important day to day aspects of managing the health of both care recipients and carers.

“When we talk about aged care and new technologies, mostly the conversation is around using technology to better connect care professionals and their patient; and certainly there is enormous scope for that.  

“But my real interest is in how these technologies can help us as individuals and family members take better care of ourselves and each other,” he says.

“Most of what we do when we are caring for ourselves and others is this mundane day to day stuff but it is just as important as the big thing dramatic things.  So these self-tracking tools and services are really good at helping us deal better with the mundane.”

Mehta says this kind of technology has the potential to bring about revolutionary change in the way healthcare is managed and provided.

“Firstly, we will have a much better ability to do things for ourselves – to monitor aspects of our health and well-being and be better informed. I tell a short story in my plenary,” he says.  “The technology we all have available to us on our personal devices today to monitor our health and track our progress, is better than all the technology that was available from any source for elite athletes competing in the 2000 Olympics.” 

The second way it will impact, he says, assuming we take advantage of these technologies, is that health care professionals will have access to much better, more sensitive, detailed and accurate information about us in order to better inform their decisions about our care. 

The third way it will affect healthcare is by enabling the gathering of more realistic and more complex health data for research.   

“The collection of health data is usually, by its nature, oversimplified, and sometimes the complexity is so reduced that it is barely a reflection of the real world. For example, there are sleep laboratories the world over and people go there and sleep and that’s how the data is collected.  But a sleep lab is not the real world; it’s not your bedroom. So now there are technologies available that can collect that data at home and that means there is access to a much richer source of information,” Mr Mehta said.

Mr Mehta believes these technologies will have a significant positive impact on approaches to positive ageing as well as the ways we care for elderly people in the future.

 “While the health profession is pivotally involved in our health care, on a day to day basis it is mostly ourselves and our loved ones looking out for what we eat and do and how much we exercise.  So, ironically, the bulk of the ‘care’ happening is not the big events happing within the formal healthcare system but what happens outside that formal setting.”  

“We need to pay more attention to the mundane because that’s the level where there is most potential to have an influence, both for ourselves and for the person we may be caring for.  

“If the great explorers of the world only planned for the big events that might beset them, like charging bears and erupting volcanos, then they might have found themselves without enough food or warm socks!  

“It’s these day to day things that make the big difference and if we can manage and track those more easily and effectively, then that’s a big help. 

Mr Mehta said these technological advances are growing rapidly and their widespread use in the future was inevitable.  

“It’s happening, so the question is, how can we influence it and take advantage of it?  My message is, you need to understand these technologies yourself and how they can make a difference in your own life; then you will be in a better position to give advice and care for others.”  

Rajiv Mehta is a co-organiser of the Quantified Self, a global movement of people using and creating tools for self-tracking and self-learning. He has 25 years of experience leading ‘disruptive technologies’ and new business creation, including working for Adobe, Apple, Interval Research, NASA, and Symbol Technologies.   Watch a short  video here of Raj Mehta talking about the importance of ‘personal science’.  Further reading on this concept is available on the MIT technology review website.

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