As with many industries, healthcare is being disrupted by technology. Large giants such as Google, Qualcomm, and Apple have been piloting digital solutions with European healthcare providers for a number of years now, with European trying to play catch-up with the United States – and with the latest announcement from Apple focusing on ‘digital wellness’ at its Worldwide Developer Conference, it looks like the technology players are not giving up on the market.
In its upcoming version of its iOS 12 software for iPhone and iPad, Apple will include a series of features focused on digital wellness, which includes an updated version of Do Not Disturb. This feature aims to help people who are glued to their smartphone switch-off, by disabling notifications over certain timeframes.
Another aspect of the ‘digital wellbeing’ suite is reporting how long a user spends on a device. A weekly activity report will be created and will break down how much time a person is using their devices or applications day-by-day. It also allows someone to set time limits for apps that take up idle time.
Not quite the same as Apple’s Healthkit or Google DeepMind, but this move from the technology player does show how the ecosystem is starting to focus more on digital healthcare. According to Health Standards, growth in the digital healthcare market will reach 13.4 percent between now and 2025, reaching $536.6 billion (approx. £401.8 billion), with major investments being made in medical devices and infrastructure.
Within the wellbeing industry, devices have also boomed. Wearables – fitness trackers, smartwatches, smart clothing, and eyewear – has seen numerous players launch products, ranging from large corporations down to start-ups on crowdfunding platforms. Even meditation had turned mobile, with Calm, Buddify and Headspace being popular.
But technology really our savior when it comes to wellbeing? According to the experts – and even some of the technology players themselves – probably not.
A survey conducted by the Royal Society for Public Health found that social media sites such as Instagram are contributing to ‘a generation of young people with body image and body confidence issues,’ and another study found that people who spent more time on social media sites, perceived themselves to be socially isolated. There is also ‘life envy’ bubbling away in the background, with social media networks contributing to people faking their ‘perfect lives’.
‘There are pros and cons to technology – for example, there is a sense that community spirit is gone, yet at the same time we need to have connections and belonging,” says Miriam Acktar, author of Positive Psychology for Overcoming Depression. ‘However, these connections are always best when people are face-to-face, with long distance relationships falling into trouble after around six months.
‘But the opportunities technology has presented are vast as well – technology can bring people together from across the world, whether you’re in the United States, Europe or Asia.’
It also seems that charities across the UK and beyond are supporting the use of mobile applications to support those who suffer from mental health conditions. For example, the Big White Wall is based fully online helping users keep their anonymity, and mental health charity, Mind UK, has collected the ‘best’ free and low-cost mobile applications.
Even the UK’s National Health Service has it’s own mental health apps library.
One company that has taken another approach raise awareness of the mental health issues associated with technology, specifically social media, is mind gym company Sanctus and its creation – Lifefaker.
Upon visiting the website, you’re presented with several social media packages to make your life look ‘perfect’. In fact, its tagline is: ‘Life isn’t perfect. Your profile should be.’
But if you click on one of the packages, instead of being presented with a checkout screen, you’re shown some home truths about social media: “Ever felt the pressure of social media? You’re not alone. 62 percent of people feel inadequate comparing their lives to others online.”
‘Our goal was to use parody to highlight some of those unhealthy behaviours we all know exist on social media,’ wrote James Routledge, founder of Sanctus, on his Medium blog. ‘Whilst it’s unfair to blame social media completely for poor mental health, there’s a clear link and we only need to look inwards to know there have likely been times when we’ve either been mindlessly scrolling, we’ve felt ourselves comparing ourselves to others or a social media post has triggered something for us.
‘The intention with this campaign wasn’t to ‘solve’ mental health overnight or even radically shift social media usage in a day – our intention is that we all become more aware of our mental health in general, that we hear the message that we all have mental health just like we have physical health.’
Acktar agrees: “One of the barriers to happiness is social comparison – on Facebook and Instagram you see people having an amazing time, and it can have a dampening effect, as well as driving a lot of consumerism.
“People have used to instant gratification, but growing your wellbeing is a gradual process. There is no instant makeover.”