The increasing convenience and integration of health technologies can empower people to take a more active role in managing their health.
Imagine if the next time you checked yourself out in the mirror, your reflection talked back, but rather than telling you how good your new haircut looked or offering style advice, it gave you a health assessment instead. Your daily primping and preening could take on an entirely new level of import in our lives, serving as a first line in our bid to catch potential health flags before they become serious, and with current technologies, this reality isn’t too far off.
Ming-Zher Poh, an electrical engineer in the Affective Computing Group at the MIT Media Lab, spends his time designing intelligent tools that empower individuals to take the management of their wellness into their own hands. He has developed a mirror that is able to monitor vital signs and show the inner health of the person standing in front of it. When your heart beats, it sends a pulse of blood through your blood vessels and to your face. Because blood absorbs light, the mirror is able to use a simple webcam, same as the one found in your smartphone, to record the fluctuation in reflected light coming off of your skin. Although the change in brightness is minute, the data can then be translated in to a heart-rate reading via algorithm, and the results are instantly displayed right before a person’s eyes.
The key innovation that makes this technology so effective is the seamless nature of its design. Users don’t need to alter their habits to literally see the benefits. Consider that for most people, heart rate monitors are simple devices strapped to the chest that are able to record a heartbeat’s measurements in real-time. However these devices are not always practical, and especially for patients such as burn victims or newborn infants, they can be painful and cumbersome. Additionally, not many people own a stethoscope to measure their own heartbeat and instead rely on medical professionals to provide even the most basic health analysis. As a result, these key health metrics often go overlooked between visits. But as image recognition technology and other sensors advance, the potential range of data that can be gathered and stored will continue to expand, bringing greater visibility around our personal health.
Poh also co-founded Cardiio which has turned this technology into an app for iPhone and iPad, effectively transforming the device into a mobile stethoscope allowing users to actively and easily monitor their own health. The app also provides analysis based on your average heart rate such as overall fitness level and life expectancy. Poh says that his goal is to “build tools that allow people to experiment with, learn about and better manage their health.”
The field of mobile health is still relatively young. Although there are smartphone applications such as glucose monitors, sleep monitoring apps, exercise and diet-tracking products, and now heart rate monitors, these applications have only begun to scratch the sufrace of how technology be can used to further our understanding of personal health. For example doctors and emergency medical responders will be able to use these kinds of advancements to quickly and efficiently attain the vital information they need without the use of bulky or invasive medical equipment.
Looking forward, the increased humanization of health technologies could help average users gain a more complex and nuanced knowledge of their personal health. Overall, it is important to establish preventative healthcare as model, and the key to this is ease and convenience. By seamlessly integrating medical technology into homes and devices that are already used on a day-to-day basis, people are empowered to take a more active role in managing their health.
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