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How mHealth will change our kids' lives

My life was different than my parents’ lives, and I am sure their lives were also different than their parents’ own lives. I remember my grandmother telling me the story of when she gave birth to my father — seven days in the hospital, with pain, time and uncertainty defining the experience. Then I think about my kids’ lives and how different their experiences have been than my own when I grew up — I had no cell phone at school (there were no cell phones, period), no internet, no seat belt laws, the news came from the networks and newspapers, and visits to the dentist were blindingly painful.

All of these experiences were pretty normal to me — but that was 1968. To suggest that our childrens’ lives will be different than ours, on any dimension, is obvious. So making the statement that our kids’ lives will be different because of mHealth is also a statement of the obvious. In fact, qualifying the statement with mHealth is unnecessary unless one cares about its specific impacts. However, I think mHealth is an interesting and important qualifier, and one worth discussing more. The change on every level is inevitable, but for mHealth, the rate of change, magnitude of change and, most importantly, the scope of change are worth considering.

Like all things IoT, one of the key aspects of mHealth is the increase in the granularity of the signature. IoT gives us much more data about manufacturing machines, cars, refrigerators and, of course, our bodies. But since our kids have grown up with the internet, it is a given that the far-reaching capabilities of IoT and the many types of associated advanced technology, such as mHealth, will not phase our kids in any way. As mHealth continues its progression, our kids naturally will not think twice about shoes with sensors in them, Fitbits, wearables ranging from watches to underwear that are recording all types of information about their daily activities, nor about their temperatures, heart rates, blood oxygen levels, etc. — all this has become expected.

But the real question to consider is what is done with all that information? First, it will create a much more precise biological signature of our children meaning all the things doctors need to ask about when you visit will already be evident and far less ambiguous — the data doesn’t lie.

Then there is the question of the doctor herself. Are you visiting her office two miles from home? Or, perhaps you are seeing an LPN with full access to specialists via telemedicine — for example, you may be in Peoria, but the pediatric cardiologist might be at Northwestern in Chicago, with the full knowledge of the digital signature your body has been creating. Moreover, the specialist might be using extremely advanced tools on you from 200 miles away with the help of the LPN as if he were right in the room — he just cannot physically touch you.

Furthermore, the digital signature you have been creating can also be mapped against what has been revealed by your DNA analysis. That very detailed digital map (which was never available to me when I was a kid, and would have been beyond unaffordable for my children), will be pocket change and quick to acquire for my grandchildren. The ability to not only diagnose based on certain conditions, but now based on a highly personalized map of you specifically, has moved from technologically possible, but impractical (i.e., to the point of unrealistic), to the point where that level of specificity will be normal. The rate of change is now moving very fast, and the magnitude of the change is mind blowing.

Another question to consider is are you an upper-middle class family in Connecticut who has had solid and dependable healthcare for generations? What if you are from rural Georgia, or rural Tanzania? As mHealth technology becomes so much more affordable, it will be deployed on a much broader level, reaching all sorts of social classes, more than ever before. That doesn’t mean poor kids in Tanzania are going to be outfitted with sensors like the ones in Greenwich, but as the technology grows, and especially as the telehealth services reach rural areas, children that were never really properly cared for before now have a fighting chance.

Nuanced in this whole discussion about mHealth are the implications on our kids. If we were to think of our kids as machines in a factory then they would be the most important capital assets of our household. The sensor wiring deployed via mHealth allows us to do predictive maintenance on those assets (our kids) so they can perform better and be maintained with higher quality. Bottom line: the care that mHealth can offer our kids allows them to be healthier, but also allows us as parents to have much greater confidence in our kids’ abilities to play hockey, bike, go to school, etc. Said differently, kids can basically “remain in operation,” or be pulled out of operation for that matter, based on reliable, empirical data. You may even know how hard your kids can hit in hockey, how fast they can run and how to push their limits in ways that allow them to develop better than you — or your parents before you — ever could.

In time, the level of integration in the ecosystem around us will take mHealth to even higher levels. For instance, the very manual process of testing people for early signs of illness today relies on analysis of blood, urine or fecal matter sent to a lab. But those same specimens run through your house virtually every day, and they can help you identify potential health issues much earlier. In fact, when mapped against your DNA signature and the granular signature of how you are living your life through a variety of vital signs, mHealth has the potential to be so much more powerful than what it is today.

That day will be here before you know it. There are elements of it now, and they are increasing at a blinding rate, with sophistication beyond what most of us can imagine. But the kids who are yet to be born into today’s world won’t be fazed at all by this progression. They will expect it as a way of life. And with that will come the “knowledge” as to the boundaries they can push, the situations they can embrace within the confines of good health and the potential world their kids will subsequently live in. It makes my head explode thinking about it all — in a good way.

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