While that might seem a bit of a stretch for a Nike+ FuelBand, this sort of hardware has the potential to change, not only our healthcare system, but also the massive insurance business around it.
Already, these technologies are collating data and even, at your behest, storing it in the cloud. Imagine how useful it could be for a doctor to check how your heart has been performing over the course of months or years, instead of just during an exam?
Extrapolate that to a person wearing several monitors all the time, logging data on every organ in his body. Not only could he get warnings when certain parts are in danger of malfunctioning, but he could get pointers on nutrition, reminders to drink another glass of water, or data to calculate an optimal sleep schedule.
But that's further down the road. In the short term, let's take the scenario of a heart monitor. What if you gave your health insurer access to that data, and after six months of no defects, and perhaps logs of regular exercise and a steady, low resting heart rate, it could drop your premium?
Tempting as that sounds, there will be some roadblocks to clear first. In the here and now, there's the issue of company-specific data. The Wellframe app doesn't team up with Fitbit to cross-reference data, nor is there a standard that has been set for medical-grade accuracy. But they'll get there; this will all be sorted out in time.
One potential problem that doesn't have a clear solution or potential for an immediate fix, though, is the inherent privacy concerns that go along with sharing personal medical data. First up, where is this data going to be stored? Will it be replicated in case of a catastrophic hardware failure? How secure is it? What if that data fell into the wrong hands? How valuable could the health data on thousands, or potentially millions, of people be?
That said, healthcare data security is supposedly better than ever. Bob Kocher, a partner at venture capital firm Venrock and former special assistant to the President for healthcare on the National Economic Council, said in an interview that doctors and hospitals used to lose paper files all the time, whereas today they know where everything is and how to protect it.
Of course, even if nothing goes wrong with your data retention, who's to say that the insurance company won't sell that data to someone else? Suddenly you're getting pill adverts marketed specifically at you, targeting your fears and your medical weak spots.
Worth the risk
These are important questions, but we should work to find satisfactory answers. While privacy concerns are heightened in our post-Snowden world, the potential for benefits from wearable healthcare technology goes beyond the individual. Looking at mass data from so many patients could show us real trends in diet, fitness, and disease, and allow us to not only develop cures and preventative measures for common ailments, but potentially use that data to help fight rarer conditions, as well.
The combination will enable us to look at healthcare in a more personal and a more global light. And if we can just figure out a way to stop one another from snooping on our dirty secrets, it's a future we might get to see.