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Looking for the Future in the Past

By Kim Bellard, March 25, 2015

I don't get smartwatches.

Yes, I know; they're all the rage. Apple unveiled its Apple Watch earlier this month, to generally good if not entirely ecstatic reviews. Not to be outdone, Google announced a collaboration with TAG Heuer and Intel for a "Swiss Smartwatch." Samsung and Sony are close behind with their own versions.

Poor Fitbit, which held the early lead in wrist wearables, is now desperately trying to broaden its product line, including the new Surge. They must feel a little like Garmin or Nikon did when mobile phones began to incorporate GPS tracking and digital phones.

I have to wonder why the focus on the wrist. It isn't the ideal place to track, say, your heartbeat, your sleep, or your steps, and as a result fitness trackers have been faulted about their accuracy.  I'm not sure who is clamoring to add more features to a watch.

It's as if Timex and Casio, not to mention TAG Heuer, are conspiring to create a demand so that they don't go the way of Kodak.

It's not that I think they are a bad idea. If you want to wear one, more power to you, and I hope it helps you with your health goals. My problem with them is that I think they are an example of our trying to create the future by looking in the past.

Shouldn't we be developing truly new technologies and uses for them?

I can't help but think about EHRs in this context. Health care providers insisted on being subsidized for what would be normal business process improvement investments for any other industry. What we got for all the federal spending were products that physicians don't really like, that more often hinder than help with patient care, that patients rarely have access to, and that can't easily share data.

We need tools that are more collaborative, more interactive, and more proactive.

Congress is already starting to ask what it has gotten for its $35b HITECH investment, even holding hearings to demand answers. EHRs used to have bipartisan support and now have fairly bipartisan disappointment.

We don't even have an agreed upon way to figure out if providers have the same patient, much less share their data about that patient. The financial services industry solved similar customer-identification problems decades ago. They did it because it made business sense.

In theory, that kind of change will happen once we make that big move to "value-based" care, but as long as our baseline is our current level of spending, I'm skeptical. We need approaches that attempt not just to reduce increases in spending but that aim to take big chunks out of spending. There's no shortage of waste, duplication and unnecessary care that could be eliminated.

Smartwatches, EHRs, or proton beam therapy, to name a few examples, are not likely to help accomplish that.

I want to see those kinds of new technologies in health care, not a smartwatch. Technologies that help change how we think about "health" and how we treat problems with it. I challenge health care technology gurus: show us something not just that we haven't seen before; show us something we hadn't even thought of before

As Alan Kay famously said: "The best way to predict the future is to invent it."

This post is an abridged version of the posting in Kim Bellard’s blogsite. Click here to read the full posting

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