The Future of Healthcare: The Quantified Self Movement

By: Michael McQueen

We live in an age where more and more of our daily lives is being monitored and measured by AI-powered tools.

On the health and wellbeing front, this is often referred to as the Quantified Self Movement. Smart watches and monitoring apps are now widely used to track users’ health across a range of metrics. But more than simply counting our steps or evaluating our sleep, the emergence of wearable health trackers has the potential to revolutionise healthcare.

New updates to various smart watch brands now enable real-time measurement of blood oxygenation, blood pressure and even the detection of atrial fibrillation. Upcoming Apple Watch releases are also expected to be able to measure blood glucose levels as well as blood alcohol readings. According to Rockley Photonics who is developing many of the sensors smart watches use, this turns our timepieces into a “clinic on our wrists.”[1]

For those looking to fall pregnant or avoid doing so, a range of new fertility tracking devices offer valuable insights too. The Oura Smart Ring, for instance, monitors a wearer’s heart rate and body temperature to predict ovulation with remarkable accuracy.[2] According to Oura CEO, Harpreet Rai, fertility monitoring is just the beginning, with hopes that the company’s device may soon offer solutions for those suffering from conditions such as sleep apnea.[3]

Even Selfies Can be a Diagnostic Tool

While the devices we wear can provide valuable health insights, technology showcased by Toronto-based company NuraLogix at the 2022 CES event shows that even selfies can prove to be a powerful diagnostic tool. NuraLogix’s latest app, Anura, leverages AI and a user’s smartphone camera to measure general wellness by analysing a 30-second video selfie. This technology development was deemed so significant that Anura won ‘Best Biometric Sensor Solution’ at the 2021 annual MedTech Breakthrough Awards.

Based purely on these video selfies, Anura’s clever machine learning algorithm offers over 30 health measurements including heart rate, breathing rate, blood pressure, stress levels, and metabolic risks.

“It’s a truly revolutionary concept”, explains NuraLogix’s CEO, Marzio Pozzuoli. “Just by sitting in front of your computer’s camera, you can track your general health and wellness with medical-grade accuracy.” The core technology behind Anura relies on Transdermal Optical Imaging which utilises light and the translucency of human skin to capture changes in bloodflow.[4]

While using AI to monitor what’s happening under our skin is impressive, a health tool launched by Google in 2021 promises to revolutionise the diagnosis of medical conditions on the surface of our skin itself. Once users submit three photos of a skin condition, rash or sunspot, Google’s system cross references the mark against millions of images of skin conditions to offer a diagnosis. Wide-ranging studies show that these predictions boast an 84% accuracy.[5]

Devices That Measure our Emotions

If measuring our vital signs, walking patterns and skin health weren’t enough, the latest devices are also capable of detecting our emotional state. A new wearable biosensor called EmotiBit can provide incredibly accurate indications of an individual’s mental and emotional state.[6]

While there is much we can monitor and observe from outside the body, there is little doubt that the next frontier of AI-powered healthcare will involve devices that work within our bodies.

In May 2021, a team of researchers at Columbia University demonstrated a revolutionary new chip can be implanted via a hypodermic needle to measure internal body temperature, and potentially much more. The implant created by the engineers at Columbia is record-breakingly small with a total volume of than 0.1 cubic millimeter.[7]

Various neural implant solutions offer similarly exciting possibilities. The most prominent of these, Elon Musk’s Neuralink technology, impressed the medical world in 2021 by enabling a paralysed patient to ‘type’ at a speed of 90 characters per minute by using his mind to merely think the words which then appeared on the screen.[8]

The Brain-Computer Interface

A similar brain-computer interface developed by medical startup Synchron was given the go-ahead by the Food and Drug Administration in July 2021 to begin running clinical trials. Numerous patients around the world have subsequently received the implant, which is being used “for data transfer from motor cortex to control digital devices,” Synchron said.[9]

While some express concerns about the reliability of AI-powered diagnosis, Japanese researchers demonstrated a computer-assisted system capable of analysing polyps found during a colonoscopy. The technology was able to identify cancerous cells in less than a second and with 86% accuracy.[10]

Similarly, a South African company named Envisionit has developed an AI diagnostic tool that can scan over 2,000 x-rays, mammograms and ultrasounds per minute in order to help under-resourced health teams prioritise the patients in most need of care.[11] In even more exciting developments, numerous companies are testing ‘liquid biopsies’ that use AI and gene-sequencing technology to identify the presence of over 50 forms of cancer from a simple blood test – and long before any symptoms emerge.[12]

Healthcare is set for nothing less than revolution as innovators continue to forge its intersection with emerging technologies. With health metrics and data becoming increasingly accessible and smart technology being integrated into their monitoring and improvement, we will soon be more consciously aware of our health than we ever thought possible – the real question is whether we will be healthier.

[1]  2021, ‘The World Ahead: 2022’, The Economist, 13 December.

[2] Golub, M. 2021, ‘Natural Cycles app gets FDA clearance for first wearable birth control’, TrendWatching, 19 July.

[3]  Wetsman, N. 2021, ‘Oura adds period prediction and heart rate to its next-gen smart ring’, The Verge, 26 October.

[4]  Lane, K. 2022, ‘Tracking health through selfies’, Springwise, 19 January

[5]  Wetsman, N. 2021, ‘Google announces health tool to identify skin conditions’, The Verge, 18 May.

[6]  Magloff, L. 2021, ‘A biosensor that can measure emotional data’, Springwise, 27 April.

[7]  Bergan, B. 2021, ‘The Smallest-Ever Injectable Chip Hints at a New Cybernetic Medicine’, Interesting Engineering, 12 May.

[8]  Timmer, J. 2021, ‘Neural implant lets paralyzed person type by imagining writing’, ARS Technica, 13 May.

[9]  Holt, K. 2021, ‘FDA clears Synchron’s brain-computer interface device for human trials’, Engadget, 28 July.

[10]  Molina, B. 2017, ‘New Artificial Intelligence Can Detect Colorectal Cancer In Less Than A Second, Researchers Say’, USA Today, 30 October.

[11]  Khoury, K. 2022, ‘Deep AI imaging diagnostics help doctors prioritise care’, Springwise, 18 February.

[12]  Ternyila, D. 2020, ‘Liquid Biopsy Assay Detects 50+ Types of Cancer and Identifies Cancer Origin in Tissue’, Targeted Oncology, 7 April.

Article supplied with thanks to Michael McQueen.

About the Author: Michael is a trends forecaster, business strategist and award-winning conference speaker.

Feature image: Photo by Luke Chesser on Unsplash 

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