Using smart assistant to manage health

May 24, 2023 08:50
Photo: Reuters

According to the United Nations Population Division, the number of persons aged 65 and older is expected to double over the next three decades. Asia is at the forefront of this trend, with Hong Kong, South Korea and Japan expected to have the highest share of people aged 65 and older by 2050.

To tackle the ageing problem, health technologies such as wearable smart devices that help people monitor their health conditions to track vitals, such as blood pressure, heartbeat and sleep quality are becoming more popular these days.

In addition to monitoring health, these smart devices also encourage people to move more, concluded by Danish researchers after reviewing more than 120 studies of personal-activity trackers, which included healthy people and those with various health conditions. After wearing smart watches, all people increased activity, taking an average of 1,200 more steps per day. The study also found that increasing steps by an extra 1,000 per day reduces mortality by as much as 36%, especially for those who are sedentary.

Further, with data analysis, chronic diseases such as diabetes can be prevented. A study found that for people with prediabetes, if untreated, 37% of them may have diabetes in 4 years. Since everyone's blood sugar response to eating the same food varies, by analysing data such as blood pressure, sleep quality, exercise, height, weight, and excrement, it is possible to accurately predict an individual's blood sugar response. As a result, people can easily master their own health conditions and manage their weight.

Medication is also a daunting part of medical care. According to a survey by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in the United States, half of the chronically ill patients have taken their medication incorrectly, particularly with regard to timing, dosage, frequency and intervening duration. This issue is estimated to have increased direct medical expenditure of US$300 billion every year. At the same time, another study found that about 80% of the burden from disease in America is caused by lifestyle factors.

The huge demand for medical care has prompted startups around the world to develop solutions. According to The Economist, there are more than 400,000 health and wellness apps on the Apple and Google app stores with 250 new ones added daily. In 2015, the majority with more than 30% of these applications focused on exercise and fitness. By 2021, however, the disease related applications increased from less than 10% to 22%, of which psychiatry accounted for more than 20%, followed by diabetes. Though there are 5 million downloads per day, 95% were deleted within 24 hours. The reason is that many of these apps are not personalised, for example, the one on anxiety problems for young people are unlikely to fit for the elderly.

A caring assistant to help you take medicine correctly, change your lifestyle or improve your mood whenever you need is an ideal scenario. An Israeli startup has developed an application that combines the role of a personal secretary with a coach, it keeps you motivated, gives you reminders or compliments at the right moment, in the tone of voice that you are most comfortable with. For example, if your calendar shows that your next meeting will start in 45 minutes, the app will suggest you to use the available time to buy a cup of coffee two blocks away, which helps you reach your daily goal of walking 30 minutes, or it will encourage you to have dinner before eight o'clock so as to fulfil the weight loss plan. The app incorporates both artificial intelligence and behavioural psychology. The company is said to have 700 million solutions to communicate with customers, and through customer responses, it learns which methods are most suited within four to five weeks.

Actually, people may also add a personal dashboard to summarise their performance of the day before going to bed, the app can then add a thumbs up or a few words to encourage users to persevere. It is expected to help users achieve better health management,

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Adjunct Professor, Department of Computer Science, Faculty of Engineering; Department of Geography, Faculty of Social Sciences; and Faculty of Architecture, The University of Hong Kong