Personalized Prevention: Harnessing Technology Catalysts for Change
Every day, we meet opportunities to improve our health. More opportunities than we probably even realize — to eat good food, get outside and be active, and steer clear of cigarettes. Despite a wealth of evidence that a healthy lifestyle goes a long way to prevent the onset of chronic diseases, Americans -- and particularly those of working age -- continue to miss out on these chances.
Today, an estimated one-fifth of adult Americans smoke, and more than one third are obese. These unhealthy habits contribute to the United States’ extraordinary healthcare costs. Approximately $2.7 trillion is spent annually on healthcare, totaling 17.9 percent of US GDP.
There is an urgent need to build a culture of health, and emerging personalized health technologies offer a promising avenue for action.
Recently, technology innovators and health promotion stakeholders have seeded an ecosystem of prevention to develop and distribute disruptive health technologies. These innovations target leading chronic disease risk factors, including medication adherence and mental health. They also encourage users to take greater responsibility for their health by enabling self-quantification of critical health metrics, ranging from steps taken to hours slept. When combined with behavioral economic strategies that nudge individuals toward healthier decisions, personalized health technology can catalyze and reinforce healthy habits.
The potential power of personalized technology to improve health is the focus of Technology Catalysts for Human and Economic Vitality 2030, a “technology map” developed by the Vitality Institute and the Institute for the Future (IFTF). The map is a tool produced by the Vitality Institute’s Commission on Health Promotion and the Prevention of Chronic Disease in Working-Age Americans. The objective of the Commission is to place evidence-based prevention strategies at the center of health policies in the US. In our first major effort toward this goal, we published five actionable recommendations, which will be released to the public on June 18. This coincides with the release of the technology map.
Our technology map presents future social and economic forces that will shape the pipeline of new health solutions, as well as forecasts and signals of how health will become central to human and economic vitality, with support from trends and technological advances.
Successful innovation will require robust cross-sector collaboration and entrepreneurial zeal. We must develop new tools and platforms that are effective across social and economic barriers, with a particular emphasis on working with lower-income populations. To create lasting, trans-generational results among individuals, and within companies and communities, the fleeting excitement of new technologies must be overcome and instead channeled into sustained engagement. Working collaboratively across sectors, we will need to proactively address the ethical, legal, and privacy implications associated with data generated by personalized health technologies. Taking on these challenges requires concerted leadership from the academic, private, and government sectors.
If we don't act creatively and with long-term commitment, personalized health technology risks becoming a mere game or gimmick. With limited improvements to health, it could contribute further to an already fragmented sector. By contrast, to help navigate these times of change, this arena would benefit most from a unified voice of aligned messages paired with inspired leadership.
If we hesitate, our window of opportunity will pass. An enduring culture of health that leverages personalized health technology will deliver the greatest return on investment for healthcare providers, employers, public officials, and our population at large. So let’s join in partnership – to ensure we establish the conditions for long-term success.