The Future Is Healthy: How Tech Can Help Shift America To Preventive Care

The following is a contributed article from FitTrack CEO, Jeff Sawyer Lee that previously appeared on Forbes Council.

You know the drill. Eat right. Exercise. Don’t smoke. And … that’s it. This advice is largely the extent of preventative medicine today, at a time when 70% of deaths in the U.S. are caused by chronic diseases and 80% of them avoidable through lifestyle changes. Many people wait for a stroke, heart attack or diagnosis before they make lifestyle changes, and that’s because we’ve typically taken a reactive approach to health. It’s why 51.8% of U.S. adults have at least one preventable condition. But things don’t have to be that way.

Growing up, I was fortunate to have doctors as parents. Unlike most people, I had ongoing access to health care professionals who could inform my lifestyle choices.

When I moved to North America, I saw a difference in the approach to health care here — and a need to shift from treatment to prevention.

Today, I’m the co-founder of a digital health management ecosystem that’s focused on making prevention easier.

Employers bear the financial brunt of the chronic illness crisis. In 2019, businesses lost an average $0.61 in productivity for every dollar spent on health care benefits — a number that doesn’t take into account the 540 million work days lost to presenteeism. But businesses often lack knowledge, infrastructure and policies when it comes to making prevention a part of everyday work life. That’s where the health tech industry can come in.

Where is health tech at today?

Today, various health indicators can be measured with basic, affordable health tech. Technology has disrupted and reimagined the way we do things in practically every other industry. It’s time for that to happen in health. We need to shift the discussion and help people see that their health isn’t a mystery. In terms of preventable illnesses, it’s a set of metrics they can track — and improve — from home.

Smartphone health tech, from basic apps like habit trackers and calorie counters all the way to complex facial and body scans, is at a point where it isn’t just simple, it’s accessible and easy to understand. Along with connected hardware like health bands, it’s accurate, affordable and easy to manufacture. It democratizes access to information and empowers individuals to understand their bodies. And it can be a lot cheaper than a cure.

Health tech can empower us to track our daily activity and consumption, remind us to be our better selves, help us measure progress and guide our next steps. In my opinion, that’s the real power of health tech: understanding, personalization and guidance.

I’ve seen people successfully turn their health around, overwhelmingly through understanding and habit-building powered by tech.

In fact, motivation and accountability are consistently ranked lower than understanding when it comes to my company’s tech benefits.

What can business leaders do to create a better future for health tech?

We can now count steps, track calories with a photo, tell users how many minutes they spend in deep sleep and more. But what is this raw data good for? As an industry, I think we need to place a higher emphasis on education and actionable insights so that consumers know what all this information amounts to — and so they can actually use it to better their health. In my view, health management is a right, not a privilege. It’s our joint responsibility to not only give consumers a better understanding of their bodies but to take it one step further and also help educate them on what it means — today, and for their future health.

One of the things I’ve learned from speaking with our consumers is that they aren’t sure what to do with the health metrics we give them. Simply providing data, like body fat percentage or water rate, isn’t enough. It’s when we tell them whether they’re in a healthy range that they understand whether their lifestyle habits should change. It’s when we equip them with the steps they need to take next to better their health that we really help. It’s simply not enough to say here’s what you did or what your body composition is. We need to draw parallels to what this really means — is an erratic heart rate or sleeping pattern an early indicator of a chronic illness? Can it be improved with a simple lifestyle change, or should they speak to their doctor? What is the potential health outcome if no changes are made? These are some of the many questions that are left unanswered for consumers now — and precisely where health tech needs to go next.

In the U.S., 90% of the $3.8 trillion in annual health care spending is for people with chronic and mental health conditions — a number that could easily be reduced in my view. But health is so much more than cost. At its core, it’s about helping people to extend their lives and making those lives fuller and happier. People are not lazy, gluttonous or weak-willed. They’re ill-informed. They’re ill-equipped. I’ve seen that when we give people the chance to understand their health to lead better lives, they take it.

Preventable conditions can pile up as we age. Every day, 10,000 Americans turn 65, and 27% of the nation already has two chronic illnesses. I believe we need to see a change in paradigm from cure to prevention in health care and public health. The average American possesses a tool that could help prevent chronic disease in the palm of their hand. Rather than approaching health from a reactive mindset, for the first time ever, I think we have the chance to focus on prevention.