The future of health is gadgets, gadgets, gadgets

December 21, 2012

Patrick Spain

Or not. The tech crowd is of late enamored of gadgets that will help us lead healthier and safer lives. At recent conferences I have see a wide variety of new gadgets to enable both the youthful, health-minded crowd and the old and infirm.

While the tech is fascinating, we may be expecting too much from it and know too little about ourselves to use these in truly helpful ways. What follows are examples from both ends of the spectrum. has a number of gadgets that will, they say, make us exercise, sleep, eat, and "energize" smarter. At the heart of these is a bracelet that is an oversized version of the Livestrong wristband. It keeps track of your vitals, can wake you with a pleasant, silent buzzing, and allows you to review all your data to lead a healthier, fitter life. This will appeal to young fitness buffs but strikes me as too cumbersome for the people who really need to exercise "“ the middle-aged, obese, and office-chair bound. does similar things, but their wireless device is not so much wearable as carryable. Need to know how many steps you took today? Fitbit is there with that information. It also has the advantage of actually being available now (Lark is still showing availability only in the future on its Web site) so that you can give it as a Christmas present to your favorite fit or unfit person.

While I admire what both Lark and fitbit are doing, the problem remains motivation rather than measurement. Some companies in this space are attempting to address the motivation issue by adding the ability to compare your performance with friends or even get friends to bug you about completing the goals you set for yourself. I am not holding my breath for these kinds of devices to take off beyond a very niche crowd. My partner's advice for how to live longer is way more practical.

The other category of devices "“ and from a market need and size standpoint, the more interesting opportunity "“ is the one that helps an aging population manage their, well, aging. Yes, we have all heard LifeCall's I've fallen and I can't get up commercial from the 1980s, but we have come a long way, grandma, since then. At a recent conference I saw an entrepreneur present a system that works with a TV to remind older patients to take their pills. I am doubtful that the folks who need this will figure out how to install the software on their TV, but maybe their kids (grandkids?) can do it for them.

Several companies are updating the LifeCall approach. One of the more intriguing is Lifespire, which is taking a holistic look at how to connect caregivers and patients using existing technology repackaged to be friendlier for all concerned. Their Lifespire Connect product hopes to offer users "independence, flexibility and fun." They are taking beta applications now for all you early adopter types.

There is no doubt that devices and gadgets will play a greater role in our healthcare. Diabetics already know this and have benefited enormously from compact digital technology that assists them to control blood sugar. However, not everything that might help someone will be adopted. In fact, few of these devices will be adopted, as they all require some sort of active effort to acquire and use them.

Successful devices will be unobtrusive, passive, and probably installed by someone else "“ perhaps a physician or with help at an assisted living facility. This means they will not only have to improve quality of life, but save money as well.

Originally published Dec 21, 2012 10:00:02 AM.