We, as consumers, now know more about our own health and wellness than ever before. […] Think back a decade: How many times, outside of a medical appointment, did you pause to check your pulse? I’ve been a regular runner since junior high, but I don’t think I ever bothered to track my heart rate while training or racing until I started wearing a Fitbit.
Now? With a twist of my wrist, I easily can check how close I am to my daily goal of steps taken, my pace, and my heart rate without breaking stride. Almost every day I check how I slept the night before and how often I was restless or woke up. And I can do it all with “over-the-counter” consumer technology that sets up, syncs, and begins tracking in minutes.
Technology is improving the human condition, helping us live longer, healthier, more productive lives. The medical community is unlocking mysteries about diet and disease detection with cutting-edge research, lightning-fast data analysis, and technology. All these exciting new developments are pushing towards what I call the ninja future––a connected world powered by the people and the innovation to shape the world into a better, bolder place. The main technological driver behind our skyrocketing access to our own wellness data is the development of the microelectrical-mechanical systems (MEMS). These tiny sensors are becoming less expensive even as they become more accurate. Understanding the mass-market appeal of such highly precise and personalized healthcare, ninja innovators keep developing new services to delight consumers and to solve real problems. But MEMS’ size and cost make them ideal for use in wearable devices, such as earbuds that monitor your body temperature and utensils that help offset hand tremors when someone is eating while also collecting data on the tremors for researchers.
And here’s where it gets exponentially more valuable to us (and, personally, exciting to me). Our growing appetite for anytime/anywhere connectivity with our friends, family, colleagues, and doctors will improve our health and wellness. How do you respond when your doctor asks, “Tell me about your symptoms” or “Describe your pain”? Probably with a lot of subjective, anecdotal self-analysis: “I seem more tired than usual,” or “It feels like it hurts less.”
But there’s a gap between what’s actually happening to your body and how you interpret it. So out comes the blood pressure cuff, “Open wide and say Ahhh,” and “Does it hurt here?” Maybe you have blood drawn. In every case, you wait for information.
Now consider a medical consultation powered by ninja innovation—one that doesn’t even involve parking lots or waiting rooms. Without asking a single question, your doctor could review your activity levels over a given time period. She could check your recent hydration, sodium, and oxygen levels without needles. A quick review of your connected prescription dispensers might show you inadvertently skipped a few doses of your medicine.
An example: A friend of mine has been a diabetic since childhood and frequently had to extract blood samples. Recently he told me his life has changed thanks to a small, flat device he wears that samples blood from a subcapillary every five minutes and sends the information to his smartphone. An alert goes off if his blood glucose level is outside the normal range. There are also automatic glucose-level monitoring-and-adjusting devices that give diabetics an “artificial pancreas” to keep their blood sugars at safe levels. This sensing technology has amazing implications for the 425 million adults worldwide who live with diabetes.
Digital therapeutics—apps, sensors, and smart technologies that function as stand-alones or in combination with conventional treatments such as medicine or therapy—have the potential to change behavior, and in some cases may be more effective than drug treatments. These treatments work well for conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure, and insomnia. The idea is that a patient’s well-being starts with doctor’s orders, but ultimately depends on the patient’s willingness to change behaviors and monitor his or her own health.
Focused ultrasound holds the promise of noninvasively treating myriad conditions—from tremors to cancer—at early stages. Cutting-edge prosthetics combine software with sensors that respond to the wearers’ movements, allowing them to perform highly precise, complex tasks (like turning keys in locks) that were unimaginable just a few years ago.
On sports fields and on the battlefield, head injuries are another frontier. Concussion-sensing technologies in helmets—like those developed by MC-10—are increasingly providing coaches, trainers, and the U.S. military with immediate information about head injuries, so they can appropriately assess, extract, and treat those affected.
Future ninjas also understand that our genetic makeup is fertile ground for innovations in health tech. Cloud computing and big data mean we can analyze millions of patient medical records to uncover which diets and treatment regimens work best, depending on patients’ maladies, genetics, demographics, and physical activity. Each individual’s genetic code can now be mapped, and the cost of doing so is dropping rapidly. Increasingly, the individual human genome will be a baseline for recommended exercise, sleep, stress, and nutrition for wellness programs. When you get sick, genetic mapping will also allow personalized diagnoses and treatment plans.
Future ninjas are on the cusp of other ingenious breakthroughs in genetics, health care, and telemedicine that will soon become mainstream. These discoveries will allow millions of consumers to assess and address their health concerns, and will enable doctors to diagnose and treat patients with greater accuracy than ever before.
Adapted from the book NINJA FUTURE: Secrets to Success in the New World of Innovation by Gary Shapiro. Copyright © 2019 by Gary Shapiro. Published by William Morrow, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers. Reprinted by permission.