We’ve become so used to the term smartphone in recent years that we’re almost blase about the term. So here’s something that really does seem smart – an app that enables a phone to act as a substitute for sleep-deprived parents in helping toddlers to get to doze off.
SleepHero was developed by a tired dad to mimic his (not-so-tuneful) singing and other background noise. A simple idea maybe, but another example of how a little technological innovation could make a big difference to people’s health and wellbeing. We may have all seen parents using their phones as a substitute nanny to quieten kids down while on a bus, but an app that plays the role of a parent is a big step further.
The rise of devices and apps that both monitor our lives and deliver services to enable us to improve our health has continued unabated in recent years. The mobile phone may be central, but the focus has broadened to wearables and beyond. Technology now permeates our everyday lives to such an extent that we can even experience feelings of loss when don’t have our devices to hand.
Yet these data-driven developments themselves can have an impact on health – recently, Harvard Medical School warned that e-readers cause sleep deprivation that affects our body-clocks, and have wider implications for our physical and mental health. A number of academic papers focus on a common theme that our devices are habit-forming and are resulting in work invading what was traditionally considered personal/free time, leading to the work-life balance challenge that many of us know well.
The irony is that this also brings a host of advantages to the health arena. It’s encouraging to see major pharmaceutical companies are innovating in the health-tech area, with smart technology enabling an even greater level of integrated and tailored care, from chronic disease monitoring to treatment calculators and delivery systems, and from specific patient education to general lifestyle advice. It’s still too early to determine exactly what effect this will all have on people and society, but there are certainly strides being made to use this technology to better our lives.
What is clear though is that data is driving all of this, and where there is personal healthcare data there is an inherent relationship between the individual and a source of expertise or care. Engagement isn’t optional, there is a direct connection formed.
Engagement, though, is something that has been difficult to navigate in healthcare communications ever since the internet began disrupting forms of media 20+ years ago. As technology brings down the barriers of access to healthcare and health-driven information, are we likely to see communications barriers come down too? My guess is yes, it’s inevitable. The question is more how quickly this happens and what form it takes, given the numerous and complex regulations and politically-charged environment that the healthcare industry operates within.
It’s exciting to be working in healthcare communications during this rapid period of innovation. Communications strategies are rapidly evolving and changing to meet the needs of today’s user. And as those people become more engaged in their own health and what they can do about it, we can expect shifts in the way the industry communicates in order to meet changing expectations and opportunities. Figuring out how to navigate all of this will continue to be a challenge – if only there was an app for that.