There is now a variety of tools available to enable the user to manage his own physical and mental well-being. The technology is fun to use and can make a real difference, helping people to become aware of new issues.

"Technology Can Help Us Get a Better Grip on Our Own Health"

Interview with Robert Picard, health expert at the General Council on Economic Affairs, Industry, Energy, and Technologies, under the aegis of France’s Ministry for Economic Affairs, on the sidelines of the annual European Congress on Health Information Technology (HIT), which took place in Paris on 22-25 May.

L'Atelier: How has technology changed our relationship with our well-being?

Robert Picard: I would rather talk about ‘living well’. Well-being tends to focus more on the individual, whereas living well is more about being a part of society, about participating. As regards the new tools, the fact is that anything to do with health is constantly in our minds. And technology helps us to get a better grip on our health, enabling us to follow, on a screen, how our weight is changing, or to actually work on our physical condition. So there’s an individualistic aspect, since these innovations mean we can take charge of our own condition without putting ourselves in anyone else’s hands. And the technology works on a smartphone, which is a very personal possession, an intimate device that we keep with us. It allows us to keep in touch with family or friends and ascertain whether what we’re doing is the right thing or obtain some support, irrespective of time or place. Nowadays there’s a very wide range of products of this type on offer.

L'Atelier: But can we say that these things have become part of daily routine?

Robert Picard: It’s true that we can’t yet say these products are a real success, but we can observe real enthusiasm for these solutions, though they may still not be widely used.

There are two criteria for making this type of technology work. Firstly, its appeal. An application, for example, must be enjoyable to use. It must also meet the basic needs of human beings, such as eating well. In order to achieve this, developing a solution will be based on the advice of all the people involved, the Living Labs, as we call them. When finalising the product we add a dimension which appeals to the user and so makes him or her want to engage with the technology. If s/he doesn’t, you’ll mostly be just wasting your time. So, for instance, the sensors on games consoles have become more and more sophisticated. This means you can expend some energy, check your weight, and see how the results measure up to your targets. Of course, after the two criteria of human appeal and results, there’s the security aspect. When it comes to applications which record personal data, users must be able to trust that the data will remain confidential, and this requires total transparency about what’s happening.

L'Atelier: Will these technologies induce behavioural changes?

Robert Picard: Yes, they’ll help to instil good practices, and will raise people’s awareness. Let’s take the example of a person who uses a menu management application. This person will find the app entertaining, s/he will start to count calories and this will already have an impact on his or her condition. And then we can imagine a solution which can indicate whether you’re diabetic, and then adjust the menus provided accordingly. Thus we move from a trendy gizmo to a solution providing real support or therapy. And this will also have an impact on the healthcare profession. Healthcare professionals will be able to concentrate on diagnostics and more complex problems; and their influence will grow as their skills become more appreciated.