Connecting myself to the internet

Lars Sundstrom, Director of Enterprise at the West of England AHSN considers the impact of digital connectivity on our lives and now our health…

There comes a time in life when you realise that your engagement with technology has fundamentally changed without you even realising it.

A few years ago my family and I visited my ancestral home in Sweden, way up north near the Arctic Circle. There is no internet or mobile phone connectivity in this beautiful, desolate and unspoilt part of the world. My experience of this was total bliss, a communion with nature. I did not for one minute feel stressed or guilty about any emails or communication that might have come from work, because I knew there was absolutely nothing I could do about it. As Karl Lagerfeld once said, the “height of luxury for me in my hectic life is solitude.”

For my children it was absolute hell! Dad how can you do this to us? they said. No Facebook! No Spotify! No iPlayer! No friends! I realised that connectivity to the internet was as natural to them as breathing and completely governed their social lives.

Well, I guess we are in for another big change, as the internet is about to reach even deeper into our lives. The next megatrend is undoubtedly the Internet of Things (IoT), where devices will use the internet to communicate with us and with other devices; a world where theoretically everything is connected with everything and everyone all of the time.

It represents a disruptive change for health, as technically we can monitor patients in real time anywhere, and in the near future obtain more or less any data we want, often and without us even having to intervene. With the launch of our Diabetes Digital Coach Test Bed this week we will be exploring how this hyper-connectivity can be used for people to better manage long-term conditions themselves.

It will be pretty amazing, I’m sure of that, because our partners are developing technologies which I didn’t even realise existed and can only describe as truly awesome. At our kick off meeting one of our partners said, “The technological fire power of the people in this room is incredible and we shouldn’t be constrained by anything, as technically we can probably go more or less anywhere our imagination takes us.”

There is one nagging question though. How connected do I really want to be? Would I use the internet to manage myself? So I decided to try an experiment. Bloated after too much Christmas, I decide that I really do have to lose weight, so I went out and bought a smart watch and lots of gadgets, for research purposes you understand, and duly connected myself up to the internet.

After a month I have to say it works! The novelty may wear off, but so far I have walked thousands more steps than I did, I eat much better and less, I weigh three kilos less, I sleep better, and my blood pressure and heart rate have, if anything, gone down slightly.

Having a digital coach nagging me to do more exercise, eat less and go to sleep and just being able to see ‘progress’ is at least working for me so far. Of course I don’t know how many people are like me, and how many people will relate to our new Test Bed programme, but I’m optimistic.

I hear some of you already saying, be careful – Big Brother is watching. Well I say to you, OK, I can turn it all off I find it intrusive, and if I get really fed up with it I know what I can do.

You will find me fishing on a lake in Northern Sweden, alone, where at least for the moment there is nobody to nag me; just me, no kids, nature and blissful solitude.

Posted on January 22, 2016 by Lars Sundstrom, Director of Enterprise at the West of England AHSN

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