Why Can’t We Move Faster to Impact Health and Wellness?

I’ve written before about how data and technology are constantly reshaping nearly every aspect of our lives—including our health care. And, Apple’s recent open-source software ResearchKit and CareKit are just two examples of the powerful tools that are being realized by today’s brightest technologists and medical minds.

Some of the world’s most renowned medical institutions have participated in the project—Duke, Harvard, Johns Hopkins and Emory, to name just a few.

ResearchKit offers a framework for scientists to build apps in which people can participate in remote studies—making it far simpler to enroll participants and conduct research. Because of the vast number of people with iPhones on the planet, the pool of potential participants is exponentially larger than traditional, on-site studies. A staggering payload of data has already been gathered—information that may one day be used to cure disease and open unprecedented windows into human health.

Johns Hopkins was actually the first institution to develop a ResearchKit app for Apple Watch. Titled epiWatch, the app tracks the onset and length of epileptic seizures. When participants detect an oncoming attack, they launch the app. An accelerometer and heart rate sensors kick in, and the app can automatically alerts caregivers or members of the user’s family.

CareKit, similarly, offers ways to assist people in tracking their medical treatment and to update their doctors in real-time from afar. Whether the apps are for diabetes management, chronic conditions or postsurgical care, clinicians and scientists are helping transform personal health care via the software—placing keys to personalized health literally in the palms of people’s hands.

The incorporation of such medical apps in our lives is empowering many to take better control of their health. These same people may also be more willing to report more accurately about their condition within the privacy of an app than during a visit with a clinician. And this is surely a good thing.

But the question I have is, Are we really moving fast enough to impact global health and wellness? What is it in academic medicine that hinders quicker applications of technological innovations and consumer-friendly processes? Why can’t we immediately create a future where we drop what’s not important and concentrate on more effective interactions to improve health care—not only in America but in the world?

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