In an era of escalating healthcare costs and the growing prevalence of chronic, yet often preventable, diseases, various digital innovations and innovative digital business models have the potential to reshape our approach to health and wellness. By leveraging the vast resources and influence of internet giants like Apple, Google, and Microsoft, I argue that we can empower individuals to make healthier choices, foster a culture of more wellbeing, and significantly reduce the burden of disease worldwide.
The World Health Organization (WHO) reports that noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) account for 71% of global deaths, with the majority of these being attributable to cardiovascular diseases, cancers, respiratory diseases, and diabetes (Source: WHO, 2021). In the United States, 75% of healthcare spending goes towards treating chronic conditions, amounting to an annual expenditure of $214 billion (Source: CDC, 2021).
Dr. David Katz, the founding director of Yale University's Prevention Research Center and author of Disease-Proof: The Remarkable Truth About What Makes Us Well, argues that the leading causes of death and disease are largely within our control. He suggests that individuals can significantly reduce their risk of chronic illness by maintaining a healthy weight, staying active, eating well, and avoiding tobacco.
Integrating digital technology into our daily lives presents unprecedented opportunities for promoting health and wellness. Apple and Google (among others) have been trying to impact our health through their health-tracking apps and wearables positively. Both companies also offered smartwatches (Apple Watch and Wear OS devices) that tracked various health metrics like heart rate, step count, and more have been introduced and created awareness and behavioral change among users.
A systematic review and meta-analysis published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research found that mobile health interventions significantly improved physical activity, weight management, and tobacco cessation outcomes (Source: Fanning et al., 2019, link to study). The study found that smartphone health apps increased physical activity levels among users compared to control groups by educating users on health facts they might not have known before (e.g. number of daily steps, heart rate, sleep patterns etc.) and empowering users with methods to improve their health.
Similarly, this 2021 systematic review investigates the application and effectiveness of mobile health (mHealth) interventions for obesity and diabetes treatment and self-management.
Despite these promising findings, challenges regarding user adherence, engagement, and long-term behavior change still need to be addressed. Research suggests that sustained use of digital health interventions is influenced by factors such as ease of use, personalization and social support.
The Share of Life® doctrin highlights the potential of internet giants like Apple, Google, and Microsoft to shape individuals' behavior and preferences. By seamlessly integrating health-promoting technologies into users' daily routines, these companies can encourage healthier lifestyle choices and foster a culture of wellness. Examples of this integration include the Apple Watch's fitness tracking features and Google Health's personalized health recommendations.
To maximize the impact of the Share of Life® concept in promoting health, a collaboration between internet giants, governments, and healthcare stakeholders is crucial. Government investment in digital health infrastructure, incentives for healthy behavior, and public-private partnerships could facilitate the widespread adoption of health-promoting technologies. Yet, governments have dedicated significant resources to regulating data protection and privacy (e.g., GDPR), while they should also actively engage with technology companies in developing and implementing healthcare models that leverage digital innovation. Public-private partnerships can enable the seamless integration of health-promoting technologies into users' daily routines, thus encouraging healthier lifestyle choices and fostering a culture of wellness. It is a paradox that governments and insurance companies are willing to pay for expensive medications but not significantly invest in new innovative business models.
Research indicates that consumers tend to trust technology companies more than governments (Source: Edelman Trust Barometer, 2021). This trust can be harnessed to drive the adoption of digital health interventions, by incorporating these solutions into popular platforms and devices that users already engage with daily. Examples of this integration include the Apple Watch's fitness tracking features, Google Health's personalized health recommendations, and Google comprehensive wellness tracking.
Moreover, sharing best practices and lessons learned from countries with effective healthcare systems, could inform the development of a global "WellnessOS" – a metaphorical operating system for individual health management that learns from our online behavior and drives positive lifestyle choices.
The convergence of digital innovation, health, and the Share of Life® concept, coupled with public-private collaboration, presents a unique opportunity to address the global burden of chronic disease. By leveraging the resources and influence of companies like Apple and Google, we can empower individuals to make healthier choices, foster a culture of wellness, and significantly reduce healthcare costs. The trillion-dollar question, however, is how governments and these powerful entities can effectively collaborate to upgrade everyone's WellnessOS and create a healthier, more sustainable future through the Share of Life® approach and public-private partnerships.
Technology companies will continue to develop and introduce innovative healthcare solutions. The critical question is whether governments will actively engage with these companies to speed up the process and participate in the shift from a reactive sick-care model to a proactive healthcare approach. By embracing the potential of digital health technologies and fostering public-private partnerships, governments can play a pivotal role in transforming the healthcare landscape for the benefit of all.
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