Buck Bond Group

There’s an app for that – but so what?

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Technology is the next frontier for health and wellness. As of June 2014, the health and fitness apps industry was growing 87% faster than the overall app market. Sales of wearable devices are expected to grow from 29 million in 2014 to 172 million in 2018, according to CCS Insights. There are new and exciting innovations in the world of connected devices (think pill bottles that text you or your caregiver when it’s time to take your meds).

It all sounds so promising. Maximize technology, give people the data and tools they need to be successful, and they’ll be able to make positive lifestyle changes to reduce their health risk factors and better manage chronic disease.

So why is it that 1 billion of the world’s adults are projected to be obese by 2025? That chronic diseases are responsible for seven out of 10 deaths each year, and treating people with chronic diseases accounts for 86% of Canada’s healthcare costs? And that a third of wearable users stop using them within the first six months?

There’s clearly a missing link. You can give a person a FitBit, but you can’t make her use it.

At the recent Desjardins 360 Forum, there was some interesting discussion around the need for connectedness when it comes to wellness. People need that human element to supplement the technology, noted Desjardins’ Josée Dixon.

That makes sense to me. Support from another human being—as well as a little competition and positive peer pressure—can reinforce healthy behaviours. It’s a lot easier to say no to that delicious-looking doughnut if you’re in a (chat) room full of people eating salad. But I think the issue is bigger than just a lack of community or shared sense of purpose.

Where’s the connection between our personal lives and our public health system? Within our current disjointed healthcare infrastructure—which lags behind many other jurisdictions in its adoption of digital technologies such as electronic medical records—how can we expect to reliably and effectively integrate data from wellness apps or wearables into processes for diagnosing disease and managing health? How do we build best practices today when we’re still so far off from where we want to be tomorrow or even five years from now?

Technological innovation will continue to be an important driver and motivator of health and wellness, but we need to fix what’s broken before we can make it work the way we want it to.

Otherwise, we’ll just be adding to the pile of outdated, underutilized apps on the virtual shelf.