The Internet has transformed many parts of our daily lives, touching everything from how we find information to how we go shopping, get directions, and even stay in touch with friends and family. In the last few years it's gone further and started impacting one of the areas that is closest to home -- how we manage and support our own health and wellness. Whether it's by helping us search for health-related information, connecting us with doctors through online portals, or enabling us to store and retrieve our medical records online, the Internet is starting to show the promise it has to transform the way people interact with and improve their own health and wellness.
Over two years ago, large tech companies like Microsoft and Google recognized this promise and introduced Internet-based tools that allowed people to store, organize, and share their medical records in a single, secure, consolidated place online. While these online applications showed potential and proved useful for many people, especially those dealing with chronic medical conditions or those acting as caregivers, they haven't yet crossed the threshold of everyday use like email or online shopping.
Why is this? For much of my career I've studied health and how it's intrinsically tied to lifestyle. I've learned that information is important but not usually sufficient to motivate most people to make and maintain lasting changes in their lifestyles -- if it were, nobody would smoke, as health warnings are present on every cigarette package. We need to work at a deeper level and to keep it simple. Recording large amounts of complex medical information could be viewed as more trouble than it's worth unless you have multiple medical problems or are a caregiver.
By just focusing on medical records and data storage and not addressing lifestyle and wellness, the earlier Internet-based tools missed a big part of the picture. In my former role as Google Health Advisory Council Chairman (2007-2009), we frequently discussed the need to move towards developing features that would help consumers act on their health and not just passively collect and store their medical information.
So, I was excited to see today that Google took a big step forward by launching a newly-redesigned and updated version of Google Health that has new wellness features.
First, they've made the product far simpler to use, making it easier to enter and view your health information. This should appeal to anyone who wants to organize their health information in one place online.
Also, Google has recognized the importance of lifestyle management. Awareness is the first step in healing, so being able to track what you're doing can be a powerful motivator. In this spirit, Google has added a new wellness dashboard where you can track everything from common metrics like blood pressure to lifestyle aspects like exercise, stress, eating habits, even sleep quality.
Google also announced some interesting partnerships with device and mobile apps like Fitbit, Withings and CardioTrainer to help collect some of this information automatically and wirelessly. The easier it is to collect and enter data, the more likely people are to do it.
These design changes are important, as they now make Google Health a new tool for anyone looking to improve their health through lifestyle change. For example, you can create customized Google Health trackers for different aspects of your lifestyle and keep a record of where you are day to day and how you progress over time. For those who like to set goals and monitor progress toward them, the newly designed product offers that too. And it looks like Google has given you a way to see how medical tests and conditions can track with your personal wellness goals.
Will the new and improved Google Health be enough to make Internet-based tracking a daily part of people's health and lifestyle activities or a catalyst for better health through lifestyle change? It's too soon to tell, but the steps that Google has taken today to improve this product are clearly in the right direction. They are offering a set of new features for consumers to engage more with their own health and wellness.
We're clearly still at the beginning of a revolution in health and Internet-technologies, but I'm excited to watch what develops as more and more companies find ways to help consumers empower their lives and take control of their own health.
Follow Dr. Dean Ornish on Twitter: www.twitter.com/deanornishmd