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Vices and virtues of connected objects in the service of health



Applications and other electronic devices challenge the traditional health care system, explains Nicolas Bourdillon, researcher at Unil and head of research and development at start-up Be care SA. It will be held from January 8 to 11 at CES Las Vegas, a convention dedicated to technology, which for the first time welcomes a Swiss pavilion.

Chest belt showing you how tired you are, watch your sleep, range of calories you eat, activity sensor measuring your energy expenditure, earpiece showing your heart rate, glasses with built-in speedometer, smartphone giving blood pressure and electrocardiogram: the list of applications for smartphones and bio-metric connected objects is based on the Pervert inventory, but they will become essential tools for the health of the future.

In the traditional health system, a person goes to a medical facility, a personal trainer, an optician, a physiotherapist, depending on how they feel. It is up to the consulted specialist to evaluate the problem, for example a physiological imbalance or a situation that could be pathological, then to propose to the person a solution, relying on reliable, standardized measurements and scientifically and ethically accepted processes. . The role of the specialist is essential because it lies in the interpretation of biomedical data.

Crucial interpretation

With connected objects, people are now exposed directly to the measure, but it is rarely accompanied by interpretation. However, interpretation is the essential element of the process because it is thanks to it that the person can know his state of health and find solutions. Without interpretation, there is a real risk of falling into the obsession with the measure, which can generate anxiety, guilt or on the contrary denial and disinterestedness. In any case, the person will miss the key elements of his health.

To make a diagnosis is not only to compare the individual measure to a norm (which can sometimes help) but it is also to interpret personal measures in the knowledge of the past of the person. However, it is impossible to standardize individual monitoring. On the other hand, a system using artificial intelligence can clearly help the diagnosis by detecting a change in behavior of the bio-metric parameters.

For example, a chest belt giving the electrocardiogram, and relying on artificial intelligence, can detect a change in the activity of the autonomic nervous system indicating that the body is fighting a disturbance. It can also detect silent infarction, preceding a massive infarction, diagnose one to prevent the other. It can finally guide the person in improving their motor and cognitive performance by encouraging stimulation but avoiding overloading. Artificial intelligence guides the person, but it can also alert a designated specialist (coach, doctor).

Alleviate the costs of health

The first advantage of a reliable measurement coupled with artificial intelligence is therefore guiding the person, which tends to make him responsible for his health. The second advantage lies in the early diagnosis: it is always easier to treat at an early stage rather than advanced. The third benefit, which results from this, is the reduction of health costs when the problem is identified early or, even better, when the disease is prevented.

On the other hand, prevention should not be part of the predictive analysis of risk, which presents a huge ethical risk. Nobody can live normally if he is told at age 20 that he has a 90% risk of triggering Parkinson’s disease after 50 years. The statistics should only lead to simple recommendations aimed at behavioral change (a food habit, a sports activity for example) but not to the prediction of an incurable disease.

The most important danger is probably the protection of personal data. If, for example, the insurances modulated their contracts according to the prediction on the health of each one, the principle of solidarity which rests on the mutualisation of the risks would be abolished, which also abolishes the equality of everyone before the health system.

Connected health will continue its development, but it can only be effective if it is based on a scientific foundation that guarantees measurement; and, on the other hand, whether it is accompanied by the relevant use of artificial intelligence. The latter will not replace the specialist, but will become his essential ally.

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Mehwish Noreen

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