Medical advancements continue in the 21st century at an amazing pace, but the rest of healthcare is playing catch up. Only in the last few years have we built a constructive path towards providing affordable healthcare for all U.S. citizens. Also lagging has been the implementation of computer technology, though thanks to a large infusion of government funds as part of the recovery from the Great Recession, electronic health records have finally been implemented nationwide.
So what do we do with all this new technology? What do we do now that healthcare is connected and wired up?
Everyone can avail themselves of new medical advancements, but doing so may not always be a straightforward proposition, as the following anecdote helps illustrate:
When I was a kid, a line of products hit the market which attempted to solve the continuing problem of getting kids to eat their vegetables. The solution: wrap vegetables in french fries! I remember clamoring for my parents to buy these products, catchily named “I Hate Peas”, “I Hate Carrots”, and so on. These weird concoctions didn’t taste as bad as their namesake vegetables, but they didn’t taste as good as french fries either. Quickly passing in and out of our household and likewise consumer culture, their memory remains as part of a recurring theme in my life – I want what is good for me, but more importantly, I want to like it!
And so it goes with devices, apps, and activities that are good for us.
Many of us are overweight, not in good physical shape, overly stressed – in large part because healthy behaviours are not fun or rewarding enough. They seem too difficult.
So how can we use technology and other modern methods to make healthy behaviours more fun and more rewarding?
There are already working examples. The 10000-steps-a-day goal and easy-to-use calorie counters are major motivators for fitness band wearers to learn and practice healthy behaviours.
One area of tremendous promise is Virtual Reality (VR for short). Affordable and lightweight VR headsets are just now hitting the market, along with the first wave of apps. Soon everyone will be able to enter amazing environments which can encourage virtual speedwalking, skiing, and even dancing. Who wouldn’t want to stride through fabulous locations, ski over gorgeous landscapes or join in dancing to our favorite music with wonderful virtual partners?
Healthcare providers and insurers, who are in the business of promoting healthy behaviours, could offset the cost of VR gear and apps and therefore bring more people to healthier, and yes, fun lifestyles. Even those who use VR without much physical activity can enjoy therapeutic benefits for stress, depression and other mental issues – some without even knowing it! And once people are engaged in new activities using VR, they can continue many activities the old-fashioned way, in the real world.
We are in an exciting time of technological advancements, but it is ultimately up to us to use them to our benefit.