Invisibles, Not Wearables, Will Profoundly Change Health Care

via FastCoExist
via FastCoExist
In the near future, invisible health-tracking technology will replace wearables, like the Apple Watch, available now

With the introduction of the Apple HealthKit late last month, the burgeoning wearable sensor market, and other digital health solutions coming onto the market, digital technology is on the verge of disrupting medicine in profound ways.Wearable technology and mobile phones have become an important element in addressing critical needs that health care faces–fewer nurses, expensive readmissions, and age-old inefficiencies.

In the design world, we are excited about using technology to impact so many lives. We are obsessing over visual interfaces: What is the best screen size in smartphones? Do we like the thickness of the Apple Watch? What are the ethics of wearing Google Glass?

While we argue over 2014-era design issues, a more profound development is happening in labs around the world. Implantable, microscopic sensor technology will soon change our fundamental relationship with technology. Advancing sensor technology has already started to create an entirely new market: invisibles.

We are living in the wearable era. Wearables bring technology and information into users’ consciousness. But they don’t rely on ambient intelligence, they’re not yet integrated into our environments, and they address micro information rather than the bigger picture of our health. They are a necessary step in the evolution of body computing, but a bigger step is about ready to overshadow wearables, comparable to the impact of the smart phone on a regular cell phone.

We study human behavior at our firm, and we have discovered that wearables get mixed reviews. When we study the new Apple Watch, we see a tremendous effort to address personalization. But will it displace the role of current watches? And wearables can be put on or taken off, which takes away the type of continuous monitoring that creates intelligent and actionable data. The current state of wearables is an important step toward something better and bigger.

Invisibles will create a world in which we don’t see technology or sensors; they are seamlessly integrated into the human body. We won’t worry about slick aluminum, glass, or steel. Technology will become human. We will return to ourselves. We have projects in which minimally invasive sensors are implanted into the human body and the biometric data is seamlessly connecting to a mobile device. Medical device innovators are betting millions of dollars in the belief that invisibles will change behavior, help people adhere to new treatments, and create a better dialogue between caregivers and patients.

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