I spent yesterday glimpsing the future of health — or at least the patchwork vision thereof compiled by the Palo Alto, CA-based think tank, the Institute for the Future. The group’s annual Health Horizons conference is actually wrapping up today.
This gathering brings together about 85 leaders from “both the private and public sector” including Kaiser Permanente, Humana, Nokia, Kraft, the American Heart Association, and the CDC, to recap the Institute’s research from the past year and present its forecast for the impact of science and technology on our collective well-being in the coming decade.
So, like, a whole lot of “cluster graphs” and academic jargon about what the heck “well-being” actually means, and whether all these communication tools and health tracking devices are really helping us achieve it.
A fascinating event. But I can’t say there was anything clearly conclusive in what I heard yesterday. Rather, a bunch of insightful tidbits that prompted me to take feverish notes. Instead of trying to be ueber-clever by synthesizing it all, I think I’ll just reprint those notes here, for your enjoyment (enlightenment? food for hought?):
- the World Health Organization (WHO) presents this definition of health: “Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.” I like that; it explains how I can feel “healthy” even with my chronic illness.
- the Gallup organization actually maintains a nationwide Well-Being Index — “a comprehensive, real-time view of the US public’s well-being.” Click on any state to view the breakdown; note how some of the highest-rated areas are right next door to some of the lowest-rated in this country.
- according to the experts here, some areas of this country have the same levels of anger as in parts of the world oppressed by war and terrorism. Yipes! “Part of that is a feeling of lack of control,” they say.
NETWORKS ARE KEY
- at the center of the poster-sized 2020 Forecast “Map” the Institute created was a whole swath about “the web of social relationships around us that influence our health for better or for worse.”
- these networks are critical to positive health behaviors because humans need to feel accepted and a sense of belonging. If you don’t believe it, check out the book “Lonely” by Emily White.
- keynote speaker James Fowler, author of the acclaimed book “Connected,” talked about how social networks “effect everything.” On their value: “It’s like an ant colony is much smarter than any of the individual ants in it,” he said.
- part of the problem in our messed-up healthcare system is the lack of networking between physicians/practitioners — they don’t talk to each other any more!
- when you make some behaviors socially unacceptable (like smoking), some people get pushed to the periphery of social networks. Some people thought this was a negative thing, while others felt it was the inevitable consequence of our collective rejection of certain unhealthy habits.
- for seniors, inter-generational social interaction has the biggest health impact. This is the opposite of younger groups, who look for affinity in their social connections.
- one great example of using social interactions/ social networks to improve people’s collective well-being is the Healthways Blue Zones project, especially the Vitality Project 2010, which gave the whole town of Albert Lea, MN, a “health makeover.”
WHAT TECHNOLOGY WILL DO
- average folk will become more engaged in science and medical research through new apps like DIYBIO, a do-it-yourself biology forum.
- gaming will engage people in health at a whole new level — because “games are a more reliable source of positive emotions than any other activity,” researchers here say.
- a lot of research muscle is going into understanding human resilience. See the IFTF’s research agenda here.
More insights from this conference will be posted at that site soon as well. I’ll let you know when the materials are up. Meanwhile, anyone got your own predictions on where advancing science & technology are taking us in terms of well-being?