Home Healthcare, Fit(bit)ness and the Future of Wellness

Home Healthcare, Fit(bit)ness and the Future of Wellness

Jeff Heaton
Nov 8, 2011

Much of the decision making and data that used to be deferred to experts has been placed in the hands of the user. Nowhere is this more true than in the realm of personal health. A whole movement has sprung up to turn lives into usable data: the Quantified Self. With the Jawbone Up hitting digital shelves this week another device has entered the fray attempting to be more than a glorified pedometer. Harnessing the forces affecting wellness and empowering the people to take ownership of their health is the vision of many designers. We're taking a look at that future and some current devices attempting to achieve it.

A Vigorous Vision
This video from Microsoft glimpses a version of healthcare where the user regularly checks their health through data gathered from their devices. This data becomes useful through software and electronic contact with a doctor, meaning even minute differences are noticed, patterns are identified and wellness is a daily consideration. The user is in control and, ideally, able to make useful changes based on the data on their own as much as through consultation. We can see this working if proper security is established. Having your medical data in the cloud is different than sharing your birthday photos on Facebook. This is apparent considering the number of doctors offices still using paper records. The key to the user-end of this vision is a system of devices, and there are certainly no shortage of those.

Artefact's prospective future is one of many biometrics cross-referenced to reveal useful facts. This is achieved through a series of devices with inputs like temperature, heart rate and blood pressure and fed back to the user through outputs like heat and sound. Their devices are called mods, and look like river-worn pebbles.

Destined Devices Today
These devices are pushing the personalized healthcare model forward. Some are all inclusive, like the Up. Others focus on one aspect, like the Nike+-enable iPod Nano.

1. Jawbone Up ($99)
The UP is the stylish wristband from the mind and firm of Yves Behar, designer of the SAYL chair amongst other things. It's made of hypoallergenic rubber and aimed at monitoring nutrition, fitness and sleep. It promises to be one of the most inclusive devices we've seen yet, but sadly it only works with iOS devices, which is plugs into via the headphone jack.

2. Fitbit Ultra ($99.95)
The Fitbit has many of the same features of the Up (fitness, sleep and nutrition), but works from a wireless base station instead of a phone meaning anyone can use it. The features are further made useful by buying a premium membership that provides analysis and reports.

3. Nike+ iPod Nano ($129)
The integration of Nike+ technology into the new iPod Nano shows how popular it is. The software is focused on running, with an accompanying website to track your runs, including pace, time and calories burned.

4. Motorola MotoACTV ($249)
Motorola's new MotoACTV, which came out Sunday, tracks running, walking and bicycling using GPS technology. Data is also stored online for you to dissect and learns what songs motivate you to push harder. Our favorite feature is the headset that doubles as a heart rate monitor.

How close to the future we've discussed are these devices? Are they the forerunners to a developing movement of empowered wellness? Or just fancy step counters? Each of us is a stakeholder in this future and answering these questions will describe the way that future is shaped.

(Images: Artefact, Apple, Jawbone, Motorola and Fitbit.)

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