Soon, we could all have near-living digital representations of our bodies in data, tracking, measuring and monitoring our movements, our activities and our key health indicators of health, fitness and well-being.
It’s already happening.
My smart ring measures body temperature, heart rate, movement, sleep. My smartwatch tracks activity, workouts, blood pressure, blood oxygenation. My phone knows how many steps I’ve taken and whether changes in my pace indicate the possible onset of Parkinson’s disease. A small home-based spectrometer can tell you how your blood sugar or cholesterol levels react to different diets. Soon my shoes will know why my Achilles hurts, what’s efficient in my stride, how high I jump, and whether walking, running, or jumping dangerously favors one side of my body.
“I think we’re moving very quickly in this world of personalized wellness, health care, fitness, performance,” Plantiga CEO Quin Sandler told me recently. TechFirst podcast.
“I think this idea of comparing one person to another is a very old-fashioned way of looking at everything. I think what’s going to happen here and where we feel we’re going is to really build the infrastructure to track the complexity of how a person moves and based on their goals, develop ideas and recommendations and interventions — with a potential human in the loop — to really get better results. Either, again, that’s performance, or rehabilitation or injury prevention.”
A Chinese AI passed country’s national medical licensing exams five years ago, and else in the country of 1.4 billion people with only 3.8 million doctors already supports doctors to provide healthcare faster and cheaper.
That doesn’t mean you or I want to see the virtual AI doctor on our next visit: it’s still early days. This means that technology will have a greater impact on the monitoring and delivery of healthcare in the future.
And let’s be honest: it takes a lot.
One thing is clear, there are many devices that collect data from our bodies. Plantiga offers a smart sole that fits into your shoe and measures 150 different parameters, Sandler says, about how we walk, jump, twist, turn and more. Plantiga, which has developed an AI-powered “digital movement coach” named Norman after the CEO’s late father (also the company’s co-founder), started out in the world of high-performance athletes.
One user: Olympic gold medalist Andre de Grasse, reigning 200m gold medalist and recent 4x100m gold medalist at the 2022 World Championships.
But your performance data is about more than the Olympics. It’s for seniors too.
“Ultimately our goal is to take the power of human motion analysis to get better results,” says Sandler. “Whether it’s fall prevention for someone my mom’s age, someone dealing with a neurodegenerative disease like Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s, or an athlete recovering from an ACL or hip injury. The way we move says so much about our health.”
And that health is getting harder and harder to deliver.
Whether it’s high costs in the US or overwhelmed national medical systems in Canada or the UK, getting care to people who need it is increasingly difficult.
This is where technology comes into play, if we design it well.
I recently came down with Covid after a flight home from Mexico. I called the BC health line and was able to tell them my breathing rate and how it had changed from normal, my body temperature, heart rate and other data which helped a triage nurse confirm that yes it was Covid, no, it wasn’t terribly serious, and yes, I could safely stay home and be healthy.
In a world where nearly 25% of Americans are omission of medical care because half the population of the earth can’t afford it either has no access in basic health services, how else are we going to provide at least some level of care? Doctors certainly can’t do it alone: we don’t have enough of them to begin with, and the ones we have are literally overwhelmed from the volume of already existing patient health data.
What we have now is a wealth of data from a fraction of people wearing devices that measure and track health indicators. What we don’t have yet is a way to easily share this data in a secure and privacy-compliant way, or a way to expand the range of people who can afford the devices.
This may come.
Some believe we will have digital twins of the human body by the end of the decade. Scientists are Building conceptual models and the wealth of data we collect every day will, logically, be able to complement these models.
The challenge, of course, is solving privacy issues, access issues, and people’s basic willingness to participate. But our inability to provide affordable health care to billions of people on the planet will likely be the key driver in making it happen.
Sandler and Plantiga, of course, focus on just one aspect: movement.
“I feel like we’re building and where we want to go in the next five years is the backbone for that world around the lens of biomechanics and movement, which really appeals to the quarter of the population that deals with musculoskeletal issues.” He says. “There we go, almost like an operating system for motion health that can be built into shoes. We could monetize this data. We could build predictive analytics around outcomes with different diseases like Parkinson’s, progressions, regressions. It’s the data set and what we can do with it, I think, in the next four to five years, that becomes really, really exciting.”
Monetizing the data sounds ominous, although I’m sure it could be done with permission and with respect for privacy.
But taking all the data from our devices about our bodies and health and using it safely and securely to deliver better, faster and cheaper healthcare outcomes: that’s an interesting goal.