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Live the Dashboard!! Be the Dashboard!!

Apps for health are better than gym or pool memberships you seldom use or diets you're almost sure to break

How many people buy a stationary bike swearing to themselves that this time, they will finally start exercising and lose that extra weight? How many people sign up for a gym membership on the first of the month swearing that this time they will go to the gym on a regular basis? How many people sign up for various versions of a weight loss program or support group promising themselves that this time they will stick to a proper diet?

Referring only to the stationary bike, I have heard it referred to as the most expensive version of the clothes hanger. The overall answer to the questions above is generally speaking “very few”. It does not mean that people are lazy. There are plenty of people out there working 14 hour days to advance their business and/or their families and/or make sure that their children can have the best possible education. You cannot call someone who works so hard, lazy. But the advertisements for all of the various health aides are extremely effective at creating guilt and promising men that they will look like Adonis and women that they will look like Aphrodite. In practice, all of these products are often very lucrative. So this also is a pyramid scheme. But if you’re talking about really helping people, in fact many of these products hurt people more than they help.

In the last couple of years, technology has introduced a different type of aid for improving health. Mobile devices, and more specifically mobile phones, have introduced the concept of a small singularly minded piece of software, to the general public. This piece of software is called an “app”. The idea is to have a software version of a toaster. Why is a toaster a successful piece of technology? Because it has a well-defined function that is intuitive. It does one primary thing and it does it well. And it doesn’t try to be an oven. Now, you can toast a waffle or piece of bread or a bagel. But the action of toasting is straightforward and effective. Finally, a toaster is not a major expense. So the idea with apps is that they have an intuitive interface, are focused on relatively few functions, and costs very little if not being entirely free.

The idea is that if you have an app that focuses on one aspect of better health, people will be less intimidated to try it out. If the app is free, or even if it costs a couple of dollars, you do not feel like a fool for having invested too much in something that you ultimately didn’t use. You may get an app that records your physical activity and thereby strive to increase your number of steps per day. Once you’ve done this, you may get another app which helps count the calories you take in every day, and use it to help you control excesses. An app does not sit in the middle of your living room as a constant reminder  of your failure. An app does not appear on your monthly credit card statement as a reminder of your wasted membership. An app is basically an innocuous icon on your mobile phone that can be easily be deleted at any moment. As a physician, it is my hope that people will better succeed with this step-by-step approach to better health, than by all of the previous systems they have tried.

The start up community is not blind to this movement, and there is already a whole line of apps and hardware units that assist a person in achieving better health. One of the expectations for the whole range of smart watches, that will flood the market in the near future, is that these watches will be one type of sensor net that tracks a range of activities and health measurements. The idea is that a person will don the watch, activate the matching app on the mobile phone and then start off on a whole new lifestyle. The ever present watch and the ever monitoring mobile phone will track you, advise you, encourage you, and perhaps even be your best friend when no one else wants to hear how your feet hurt so much.

I just saw an article about a new app whose role it is to be a dashboard for all of the fitness wearables and health apps in the market. The idea is that because there are so many such devices and apps around, one could find themselves spending a significant amount of time just maintaining all of these separate systems. Going for a run might take an additional 10 minutes just to make sure that everything is loaded. The idea of a dashboard is to be a central hub to which other devices and applications connect. It is then the dashboard’s job to take the information from all of these other sources and present a limited or even single graph or indicator that summarizes all the information. A dashboard might intake data  from five different devices, services and apps but presents all of the collected data as one number or score that summarizes your success. With this single number, you could then be compared to other people trying to achieve the same thing. This type of anonymous competition might help some people to achieve their goals. And for those who do not wish to know what others are doing, you can simply turn this feature off.

I expect that such dashboards will also become popular with all of the medical apps and services and monitoring devices that are in the market and are coming to market in the near future. The idea here is that the diabetic be given a single score which summarizes their adherence to their medication, there care regarding their diet and finally their level of activity. The diabetic will know that as long as there singular score is more than 50 [this is a made up number], that they are doing well. If their score drops below this value, the dashboard will automatically advise them as to where they are falling short, and how they can do better.

We are blessed with living in a time when all of the data we need to make better decisions about everything, is floating around us in cyberspace. The problem is that collating all of this data and turning it into usable advice is proving to be very difficult.. That is why there is such a need for applications that can summarize all of this data in such a way that we can know how to proceed. Ultimately, just as you track the dashboard on your car to know that you are driving correctly, so it will be with these virtual dashboards in regards to your health and medical needs.

Thanks for listening

About the Author
Dr. Nahum Kovalski received his bachelor's of science in computer science and his medical degree in Canada. He came to Israel in 1991 and married his wife of 22 years in 1992. He has 3 amazing children and has lived in Jerusalem since making Aliyah. Dr. Kovalski was with TEREM Emergency Medical Services for 21 years until June of 2014, and is now a private consultant on medicine and technology.
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