"The most dangerous decision-making fallacy is that informed decision-makers will naturally make better, more objective decisions. Making consistently timely, effective, informed decisions takes hard work. Trust me – it’s worth it. Effective decision-making is the essential common ingredient behind every successful step, initiative and strategy that people, organizations and national governments undertake."Ozzie Paez
Advances in technology, particularly sensors, physiological models and artificial intelligence (AI) are poised to revolutionize fitness and health. They will also disrupt traditional healthcare, from doctors’ offices to emergency rooms. At stake will be the most intimate aspects of human existence: longevity, quality of life and independence. The nation is in desperate need of this emerging revolution because, if you run the numbers as we have, it’s evident that even the most advanced economies cannot afford government provided, free, highest quality healthcare.
Why is healthcare so costly? The primary culprits are chronic illnesses that account for over 85% of America’s more than three trillion dollars in annual healthcare costs. The good news is that the primary causes of most chronic illnesses are well-known and controllable: physical inactivity and poor fitness:
“Chronic diseases are major killers in the modern era. Physical inactivity is a primary cause of most chronic diseases... the body rapidly maladapts to insufficient physical activity, and if continued, results in substantial decreases in both total and quality years of life. Taken together, conclusive evidence exists that physical inactivity is one important cause of most chronic diseases. In addition, physical activity primarily prevents, or delays, chronic diseases, implying that chronic disease need not be an inevitable outcome during life."[i]
There is more good news in that new and emerging technologies are particularly effective at helping people stay active and therefore healthier. What’s not so clear is how well industry will translate tech’s growing capabilities into affordable, effective solutions that help reduce the incident and costs of chronic illnesses and conditions. That’s the question we’ve been exploring over the past three years as an increasing number of innovative, medical-quality, consumer grade, health and fitness products entered the market. Our technical evaluations have included field tests of selected products that empower users to live longer, healthier, and more productive lives.
The iWatch 4 from Apple represents the current state of the art for technologies bridging traditional fitness and medical services industries.
The most innovative products and services we’ve evaluated targeted fitness and health conscious consumers. Those markets can more easily innovate because they are not subject to regulations, oversight and insurance constraints common to medical services. OPR field tested six cutting-edge consumer products that outperformed traditional medical equipment by delivering more detailed, timely, actionable information at much lower price points. They proved effective in helping users recover from injuries, track cardiovascular performance, monitor muscular activity, and measure physiological fitness.[ii]
The rate of innovation, improvements and short time-to-market for health and fitness products have exceeded our expectations. For example, a project completed in 2017 for an MIT course on the Internet of Things assumed personal monitoring capabilities that were not yet available. These included fall detection and advanced heart monitoring, with automatic emergency notification. We were surprised when Apple included them in their iWatch 4 less than eighteen months later. More capable versions of the watch and competing products are already in the pipeline or undergoing testing and validation.
Summary and implications
The capabilities of emerging health and fitness products and services are being magnified by artificial intelligence and machine learning. Our field tests and assessments of wearable products like Apple’s iWatch 4 and emerging AI technologies point to significant near-term disruptions of healthcare business operations and medical practices. We project that these technologies will save countless lives by actively informing users and their doctors of emerging health issues, and autonomously summoning help in response to life-threatening emergencies.
Their broader social and economic impacts will likely revolutionize national healthcare policies and practices. We expect technologically savvy, health conscious communities to live longer, more active, healthier lives than previous generations. Healthier populations with lower incidents of chronic illnesses will in turn reduce healthcare costs, potentially saving trillions of dollars per year. In this context, wearable technologies and artificial intelligence represent the first practical solutions for making healthcare more accessible, effective and economically sustainable.