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Nag On My Shoulder

By Kim Bellard, July 15, 2015

We seem to like to have help with our health.  In addition to doctors, we might have a case manager, a health coach, a pharmacist, a personal trainer, or a nutritionist, to name a few.  But we soon may be able to have all of their expertise whispering in our ear 24/7.

Whether that would be a good thing or a bad thing remains to be seen.

The Wall Street Journal recently profiled an interesting company called OrCam.  OrCam's origins were in helping visually impaired individuals.  A small wearable camera processes surrounding images -- faces, steps, even handwriting -- on the fly and informs the user, almost as if they were seeing the objects directly.  Now OrCam is testing what they bill as a digital personal assistant -- Casie -- to add even more value.

I can see all sorts of potential for health care.

The WSJ article gives the example of you walking down the street, and Casie recognizes the face of one of your Linkedin contacts.  

If OrCam can recognize your Linkedin contacts, I would bet that it can recognize a donut, or a cigarette, and remind you about the health risks before you get either in your mouth.  
Such a digital assistant might also notice you haven't taken your morning pills.  Lack of adherence to taking medication has been labeled a $300b problem.

Maybe it could be trained to look at that rash on your arm and offer an informed diagnosis, taking teledermatology to the next level.

Pack a portable ultrasound into the device -- this technology is already here -- and suddenly whole new worlds of things your digital assistant could help you with really open up, especially if paired with a Watson type of AI.

Ideally, one would like to be able to tell your digital assistant how you are feeling, much like you might tell your doctor or try to do with an online symptom checker, and get a diagnosis.

Fitness trackers are all the rage, but the attrition rate on the use is terrible; a third stop using after six months.  Perhaps something like Casie could have better luck keeping you engaged.  

Smart glasses have faced adoption resistance for a variety of reasons: people think current models look goofy, there are concerns about privacy when everything in sight is suddenly a picture/video, or perhaps it has just been lack of a perceived killer app. 

OrCam addresses the first objection by being a fairly inconspicuous clip-on, and the second by deleting audio and video content after it has been processed and analyzed, sort of like Snapchat does for messages.  

And maybe digital health assistant will be the killer retail app.

I think the concept of "augmented reality" raises the bar for digital assistants.  Instead of just warning you about eating that donut, the digital health assistant might flash a picture of you with an extra thirty pounds just to re-enforce the risks it poses. It'd be like the health care version of "scared straight."

OrCam is a reminder that our digital future doesn't necessarily lie in smart phones or smart watches or even smart glasses. This is why companies like Facebook and Google are pouring so much money into virtual reality -- not just to escape reality but to augment it.

People talk about "the digital doctor," but what really makes that concept interesting is that it may not involve a doctor at all.  I just hope my digital assistant knows when to be quiet and when to make me listen.

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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