We live in a world which has traditionally taken a one-size fits-all approach to health. In the UK nearly everyone uses one health service, we consume the same medicines, eat the same food and do the similar exercise routines. More importantly, we know very little about how these interventions or lifestyle choices impact our bodies. That is until we get sick, need to have tests done, or are told to take more medicine.
This is the status quo. The NHS envisioned by Aneurin Bevan is, arguably, no longer fit for purpose. In order to deliver sick and serious care that’s free at the point of need, we need health solutions that empower people to have agency over their health. The old model of information asymmetry is changing whether we like it or not. Unchecked, people are arming themselves with information. It’s surely better, therefore, that those at the forefront of the movement seek to ensure the information is sound and there’s transparency about any existing limitations.
We are witnessing a transformational shift in how individuals access and use data in every aspect of their lives, with technology fuelling the growth of personalised and on-demand services. We’re voraciously learning and sharing about health and wellbeing across online / social communities. The quality of ‘learning’ isn’t guaranteed. What is guaranteed is that it will continue to happen regardless.
In the near future we will look back on this homogenised approach to health, and the limited understanding of what is happening inside our bodies, and we will be shocked at our ignorance.
Armed with convenient, affordable tools that provide frictionless access to bio-data and with innovative, personalised services that use the information intelligently, we will take a proactive role in not only understanding our bodies but understanding what actions prevent illness and optimise wellbeing.
The trends are self evident. Consumers are voting with their wallets and are finding solutions that enable them to live the lives they want to live. On their terms.
I’d like you to imagine a scenario. One day you wake up, at a time identified by your sleep tracker, and roll out of bed. You take your bespoke daily vitamin dosage, which has been prescribed based on your needs identified through a blood-test you did at home. You might currently be taking medication, which instead of being off the shelf, has been developed based on your genetic makeup and was prescribed through a video call with your GP. Again, from the comfort of your own home.
You might already be wearing a health tracker, or you might simply pick up your smartphone and head to the gym where you’ll do a workout that is designed around your body type and personal health goals. Then you’re able to refuel with a meal that has the right blend of macronutrients for your body and metabolic rate, which will adapt and change over time (…or you might just get a burger, because you’re still human).
This isn’t a future we can expect to see in five years time; this is happening today, even if it isn’t quite yet the norm. Because of course, for many people, the concept of analysing their own bio-data may seem to be a niche interest but it’s an area which is growing quickly and already hitting the mass-market. The solutions today may not be perfect – as with all breakthrough concepts, most companies in this space are still feeling their way to sustainable solutions.
It’s not all rosy though. The consequences of getting health ‘wrong’ are profound. And it’s entirely appropriate that innovators, incumbents, researchers and regulators come together to ensure that as power moves into consumers hands, it’s managed responsibly.
Analysts have estimated that the global segment for health self-monitoring will grow from from $20.7 billion in 2017 to $71.9 billion by 2022. Crucially, these tools and products are being developed not to add more complexity into our lives, but to empower people to live a healthier, less interrupted life and and they have untold benefits for people managing long-term health conditions.
But how has this movement gathered pace and where do we go from here? We see three factors at play.
Firstly, there has been an explosion in awareness and education around health and wellbeing. This is a trend that was undoubtedly led by the bio-hacking community – a niche but influential group leading the quantified self movement and arguably best illustrated by poster boy Tim Ferriss who boasts over 100m downloads of his weekly podcast. This awareness can be seen in our renewed focus on mental wellbeing, fitness and the rising popularity of diets which limit environmental impact, such as veganism. Crucially, this thirst for knowledge and increased awareness of what we consume and how we move has been driven by our second factor, technology.
It is an axiom to say that technology has transformed our lives beyond recognition but when it comes to our personal health and wellbeing, we are yet to see how great that impact could be. Products such as wearable trackers, sleep tracking apps or bluetooth scales give us access to more knowledge about our bodies than ever before. For a long time, we were deliberately not listening to our bodies and the only way for us to previously access our bio-data used to be through a doctor but that’s no longer the case. Technology has given us access to more data than ever and has helped us streamline and simplify our lives beyond recognition.
Finally, we come to the challenge this transformation could help us to answer – the pressing need to support a crippled health service. There is unfortunately a growing distrust in the current system to meet consumer demand, not only in the most basic of services but for information and streamlined services. That is why we’re seeing increasing numbers of people taking control of their own data and choosing to manage their own health.
Of course, we believe the true opportunity comes when innovations like those we’ve discussed and existing health services come together. The opportunity here is for them to not only deliver a more personalised, holistic and ultimately preventative healthcare system but one that is future-proofed and efficient as well.
This growth in health-tech and the health-at-home market is a decade long movement, not an overnight transformation but it is gaining pace. There are hurdles to overcome – largely because we’re rewriting the rule book on a previously very personal area that requires innovators to grapple with the need for marked behaviour change. The tracking, sharing and analysis of bio-data comes with big questions around trust, privacy and responsible use of this information and we believe the most progressive companies at the forefront of this movement recognise the significance of this responsibility.
Hamish Grierson is CEO and Co-Founder of Thriva, the preventative health-service offering finger-prick blood tests you can do at home.