Recently I had the chance to sit down to dinner with our National Rural Health Commissioner, Professor Ruth Stewart. Among many topics of conversation was the average life expectancy for Australians. We are at an all-time high with life expectancy at birth currently sitting at 82.8 years. That sounds like great news but this data can be broken down in many different ways. I was most interested in location and with recent research indicating that air pollution robs the average human of 1.8 years, you would expect a drop in major cities.
Unfortunately there is one factor that is of much greater importance. Access to health care. Your life expectancy is as high as 86.7 years if you live in an area with a high SEIFA (Socio-Economic Indexes for Areas) such as North Sydney or the Melbourne’s Inner East or Brisbane’s West or Adelaide’s Hills. On the flip side your average life span drops as low as 74.5 years if you live in areas with a low SEIFA such as the Outbacks of NT; Queensland or WA or even the Far West or Central West of NSW.
As always, I pondered if there was a technology solution to this great divide between city slickers and regional Aussies.
With the latest announcement by the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) in Australia, we might have our first clue. The TGA has approved the Apple Watch to create, record and store a single-channel electrocardiogram (ECG). This started me thinking.
With reduced access to primary health care in regional Australia, can a range of devices on our body and in our home help with early diagnosis of problems? It really comes down to what we can monitor. Well that list is pretty exhaustive. We can use technology in our home to monitor weight; body temperature; blood pressure; irregular heart rhythms; sleep quality; physical activity; glucose levels; sedentary behaviour; hygiene patterns; kilojoule intake; blood oxygen saturation and so much more. A smart healthcare home could be setup to allow all of this information to be fed to a team of health professionals that would look for irregularities and then advise on more action to be taken.
Despite the fact that Australians living in densely populated areas and low-density populations are all paying their taxes to the government, it does not seem viable to have the same specialists and health facilities in a town with a population of 1,000 compared to a city with millions of people. But once health problems were identified, telehealth may allow for the continued intervention of professionals to monitor and improve health outcomes.
These ideas may also allow people to stay in their homes longer before moving to dedicated aged care facilities. Research shows that people are happier in their own homes and the overall economic cost is lower. Enter the simple wristwatch again. Many of the latest smartwatches have fall detection so if a wearer experiences a certain G force (for example from falling over) followed by no movement for a short period of time, emergency response systems automatically kick in. Of course a wearer can trigger a call to 000 directly from their wrist as well.
57 per cent of Australians aged 65 and over believe that technology is vital to managing their health with 56 per cent of that age group using technology at least monthly to manage their health.
All I need now is a shower that runs a total overall non-invasive body health check when I step in before I start each day.
Tell me if you feel comfortable using technology to monitor your health at firstname.lastname@example.org.