How many times have you set your alarm early to go to the gym only to roll over and hit the snooze button when it goes off? Or chosen to drive or take public transit rather than ride your bicycle to work because you think it “might” rain?
If you have, you’re not alone. As humans, we often choose the short-term satisfaction rather than the long-term benefit. This is a challenge for societies when it comes to promoting disease prevention rather than disease management.
There is no question that we have made great strides in lengthening life. Yet we continue to struggle to achieve widespread, lifelong health. The diseases of aging take their toll, not only on the quality of life for the elderly, but also on those who care for them.
Prevention and early access to care are key to controlling the costs associated with the diseases of aging. However, both require people to engage and shift their focus to lifelong wellness rather than simply being disease-free. New technologies, increasing health consumerism and changes in behavior can all contribute to a lifetime of health.
Emerging technologies and the rise of the “super consumer”
Across industries, the empowered consumer, or “super consumer,” is recognized as a disruptive force, altering how companies, including those in health, do business, albeit more slowly. Emerging technologies may be poised to accelerate this change by offering the promise of engaging with people around their health goals and allowing them to reach their personal best, regardless of health status.
For example, there are medical devices and sensors that can monitor health status and gather the data that can help consumers maintain their health. These smart devices create positive feedback loops to “nudge” individuals with the right piece of information, cue or intervention at the exact right moment in time to maintain health. However, many of these devices are currently designed with active young people in mind, selling the idea that there is an athlete in all of us. This isn’t necessarily the best approach for motivating wellness in seniors.
This is particularly problematic given that when people were asked in a recent EY survey about their top aging concerns, 51% of Generation Y versus only 38% of those 65 or older said maintaining a healthy lifestyle and independence were the highest priorities.
Change behavior, change engagement
The reality is that new technologies have to be used to be successful. User-centric design that is easy to use and offers instant benefits will help. But we also have to consider how we as a species tend to behave. In addition to choosing immediate rewards over long-term benefits, we are inherently a risk-averse species, preferring to protect ourselves from losses even at the expense of making a gain.
As humans, we’re also a bit myopic. Health isn’t necessarily the absence of disease so much as a lifelong focus on wellness. But a lifetime seems like forever, and wellness is too nebulous to latch onto as a sustainable goal. As a result, we return to our habitual behaviors.
To shift behavior, both individuals and care teams will have to understand their personal goals and provide the right milestones and motivation to reach them. However, in doing so, they will have to avoid the pitfalls of “nudge fatigue.” Many of today’s sensors and apps may be designed for long-term outcomes, but they seek to encourage some immediate results. The urgency of these alerts, combined with outcomes that are too far away to see the value, may serve to discourage rather than encourage.
A shift from accepting absence of disease to celebrating lifelong health
In much of the developed world, people are living longer. But are they living better, healthier lives? The convergence of emerging technologies, super consumerism in health, and fundamental adjustments in behavior and mindset may help answer this question — not only for the health of the individual, but also for the health of the bottom line.