It would be difficult to debate the notion that the world is more connected now than in any time in history and that the rate of technological “connectedness” is increasing exponentially. Computers are connected. Phones are connected. Homes are connected. Automobiles are connected. Even utilitarian devices like wash machines and refrigerators are connected. The assumption seems to be that an increase in technological connections increases human connections too. However, there is mounting evidence that the opposite may, in fact, be true.
It may be too early in the research to establish causation or correlation, but increasing with the prevalence of connected technologies, is a rise in the rates of loneliness and a decrease in the levels of empathy towards each other. If you subscribe to the belief that humans are tribal, this trend is alarming – in some ways, it’s counter to what it means to be human. Empathy, the ability to share another’s feelings, is not unique to humans, but drives our ability to love, learn and communicate in ways that truly separates humans from other animals. When considering the impact on health, loneliness can have a dramatic effect; studies consistently show loneliness can lead to a 30% increase in mortality. On par with obesity and smoking.
How should we look at connected health?
As we consider the topic of “connected health,” it is important that we understand the kind of connections we seek and their associated impact on health. At the heart of this discussion is the nature of the relationship we hope to establish. For industries such as banking and travel that engage customers in transactions, the connected world has been transformational. I can’t remember the last time I stood in line for a bank teller or had a discussion with a travel agent. I can complete the transactions of value without any human connections. I don’t feel the same way about my health.
Health is personal, a culmination of countless decisions made by individuals every day throughout their life. Addressing the complexity of personal health is beyond the scope of any one organization simply because the determinants of health are so diverse. Food, fitness, sleep, stress, environment and countless other factors impact health. As we consider connected health, we must challenge the industry to think beyond current digital connections that improve access and convenience to health and explore how consumers want to connect, and the best way to engage them in their health.
It’s taken many years for me to fully accept that health is not the destination sought out by most – belonging, purpose, contributing to a greater good and quality of life – are the targets people seek in life. Health is merely a byproduct of reaching those destinations. As professionals in healthcare, it will be crucial that we focus on connected health solutions that embrace what it means to be human and don’t merely diminish health to a transaction, thinking it’s something that can be improved by downloading an app.
The ability to connect individuals with technology does have tremendous potential. But connected health has little value if it devalues what it means to be human, if it diminishes our ability to care for one another.
What’s the future of connected health?
As the pace of change increases with technology, along with the cost of healthcare and chronic diseases, there is great value in organizations partnering to create goods and services that expand the access, convenience and simplification of health and health management through connections both in technology and with humans.
At Wellsmith, we don’t just focus on convenience and simplicity of health management, we also prioritize the connection between the care provider and consumer to elevate a transparent experience and access to health guidance that activates them in managing their health. This means we don’t just make it simple to access a confusing directive from a healthcare professional, but instead, we create a digital care plan that simplifies how to manage their health daily while connecting them to their provider for guidance when they need it- providing that supportive, human empathy that helps keep us going.