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When a phone is more than a phone…

Blog: Technology, Blog: Health

9/28/2016
— Rachael Parkman 

It’s old news that Apple is removing the universal headphone jack from the iPhone 7 - but among the arguments about the quality of Bluetooth headphones or the easy-to-lose quality of the Airpods, there is a bigger issue that, while it arguably affects a smaller number of people, has a bigger potential impact.

Better uptake of technology by people with long-term conditions has been held up as a way of reducing healthcare utilisation, of encouraging people to understand and manage their health better. But this depends on the technology itself being easy to use and easy for people to integrate into their life – it won’t work if it adds to the burden of disease. And this is where the headphone jack issue becomes interesting.

Many devices, such as blood glucose monitors, make use of this universal connector, making technology easy to distribute whatever handsets patients use. Manufacturers like DarioHealth will need to adapt their tech to suit the new system, and this may incur a delay, with new kit needing to go through regulatory approval. Some developers, such as Kinsa, are therefore making a move towards embracing wireless technology, but others, such as CliniCloud, have said that Bluetooth doesn’t offer high enough quality audio for its connected stethoscope.

It would be a shame if people and health professionals using these pieces of kit were discouraged from continuing due to confusion over connectivity or lack of continuity. In the UK alone, the Department of Health has stated its aim to achieve 25% of patients with long term conditions such as diabetes monitoring their health remotely by 2020. Smartphone ownership among the over-55s has increased by 40%-50% , and, while there will likely be (for some time anyway) a cohort of people who are reluctant to use new technology, it is a no-brainer to engage those who actively want to.

Supporting behaviour change, that is, new ways of managing health and different relationships with health professionals isn’t easy. Each new action needs to be wrapped with support, clear messaging and information on desired outcomes, so people with long-term conditions feel empowered and not abandoned. Changes to familiar tech also need to be managed to ensure steps towards better self-management continue forward, rather than cease or even go backwards.

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