Healthcare Technology Featured Article

December 10, 2014

What do Wearable Technology and Sherlock Holmes Have in Common?

There has been a recent revival of the popularity of Sherlock Holmes, the urbane, eccentric detective able to solve mysteries using his vast knowledge of both common and esoteric facts.

With his keen sense of observation and his ability to coalesce little pieces of information in the laser-focused CPU under his deerstalker hat, Holmes is considered the prototypical practitioner of deductive reasoning.

Although the more recent movie and television versions vary somewhat from the original persona written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle—a physician—Holmes continues to combine the ability to gather, manage and analyze many snippets of information to draw conclusions about the motives, methods and outcomes of major crimes.

Conan Doyle was said to base his Holmes character on one of his professors from medical school in Edinburgh, Dr. Joseph Bell. Dr. Bell was considered an excellent diagnostician and able to impress Conan Doyle with his ability to correctly “guess” professions, daily routines and medical diagnoses of patients, students and colleagues, using pieces of information that others might ignore or find irrelevant.

Having grown up reading Sherlock Holmes and undergoing a substantial amount of medical training as a doctor, I find the whole concept of deductive reasoning using data-gathering and hypotheses-testing familiar. Following on the heels of this deductive process is a plan of action that is both meaningful to the patient and effects a change in status. Without this chain of events, including information gathering, analysis, decision making and action, diagnosis and treatment would be rather monochromatic and less effective.

This is where wearable technology comes in. Until the very recent past, the entire concept of useful health information has been aligned with complex and specialized tests such as CT and MRI scans, ECGs and other laboratory tests. The actual function of an individual has only been measured to a small extent and at infrequent intervals. Simply put, we aren’t looking at the whole picture.

If Sherlock Holmes was asked to assess someone’s health and wellness, he would closely observe the way the person walked, where he lived, who he associated with, what kind of food that person ate and so on. He would not have limited his observation to a few specific tests that are done at some point in time. There just wouldn’t be enough information to paint a complete picture of that person’s health.

Similarly, physicians have not been able to efficiently assess those possible sources of information that accumulate around a patient and measure physical, psychological and social functions. Although these factors are all important to a person’s wellbeing, the sheer magnitude of information is overwhelming, and if the physician does not have the built-in CPU of Sherlock Holmes, this huge trove of information is usually ignored, or only partially assessed.

I think of our personal lives as a “cloak” of information and relationships forming around us. We have physical contact with places, people, our food and our environment. We have less physical, although also very “real,” relationships with organizations, people and our emotional and psychosocial world. We also have internal relationships with our body, and we define the sum of all of these interactions as health and wellness.

All of this information can be measured, as is increasingly happening with wearable devices. Internal information, such as our activity level and heart rate, provides one facet for understanding our health and wellness. But the other interactions we have with the world are also important. Interactions with others, both in-person and over the Internet and information about our mood, diet and other experiences are all being collected.

I think of all that data emanating from us as being part of our cloak of digital information. Depending upon the parameters, we can see a person’s internal health, psychological health, social health and other aspects of their personal wellness. This cloak of information becomes useful and applicable to health and wellness when it’s managed, analyzed and conveyed in concise, meaningful and engaging ways.

Understanding what you are seeing and what you are not seeing is the first step in gaining a deeper knowledge of the individual. Certainly, the next steps in engaged health are coming, and it is our collective responsibility to guide these developments in ways that prove beneficial and valuable to the individual.

When it comes to crime-solving techniques and the world of wearable technology in health, I believe that the Sherlocks portrayed by Robert Downey, Jr. and Benedict Cumberbatch would both agree that many pieces of information critical to health are related but often dismissed. The keen sleuth who is insightful, and is able to analyze this “cloak” of information will be the one to illuminate the pathway to personal wellness.

About the Author: Dr. Richard Hu leads Vivametrica as founder and CEO. Rick comes from a spinal and orthopedic surgery background and is a clinical professor of surgery at the University of Calgary. His past experience includes leadership roles within hospital and health care systems, and within university settings. Rick has co-founded, nurtured and grown a number of health-related businesses.

Edited by Maurice Nagle
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