We’ve grown accustomed to thinking about epidemics in terms of sickness and disaster, our imaginations inspired by graphic stories from Hollywood and the mass media. It’s important to realize, though, that an epidemic can also mobilize positive health outcomes. Popularized by Malcolm Gladwell, these positive “tipping points” can generate all manner of healthy behaviors within society. In fact, researchers at Harvard have found that smoking cessation, weight loss, and even happiness are all highly contagious. Unfortunately, these highly contagious healthy epidemics do not grab headlines the way that the latest avian virus does—but they are every bit as powerful. In fact, the epidemic of healthy living that is about to break out in America will catch many people by surprise.
There are 3 unique characteristics of this healthy living virus that, taken together, are driving us to a tipping point.
1) Feedback: Understanding the True Cost of Illness
Feedback is a critical component in any behavior change, and massive feedback is about to roll through the healthcare system in a very visible and personal way. Driven by the Affordable Care Act, Americans are about to become acutely aware of the true cost of illness. Not only will we become more aware of costs, but in many cases we’ll be forced to pay more directly for care. Some physicians have even begun to opt out of the entire insurance bureaucracy, and instead, are posting fixed prices on their websites. As people gain firsthand knowledge of the true cost of illness, and are held more accountable for those costs, the urgency for healthy living options is going to escalate.
2) Fogg: Harnessing the Impact of Tiny Habits
BJ Fogg runs the Persuasive Technology Lab at Stanford University, and studies Behavior Design—creating systems that change human behavior. Fogg’s research has identified 3 core steps that drive healthy behavior change. First, start small, simple, and easy. For example, if you want to floss your teeth, begin by flossing just one tooth. Second, the new habit needs to be linked to another existing habit. In other words, what will the new habit come after? I will floss one tooth after brushing my teeth. The third and final step is to consciously work on making the new behavior automatic by tracking consistency over time. As the first little habit becomes automatic, additional health habits follow in its wake. Soon you will be flossing all of your teeth after brushing.
3) Fitness: Training Like An Olympian
More than 130 million Americans are now equipped with one of the most potent communication and healthcare devices ever imagined—the smartphone. When smartphones are coupled with mobile fitness devices such as the FitBit, Basis, and Nike +, individuals now have access to digital training regimes that rival those of Olympic athletes. This personal, mobile technology is perfect for enabling the easy, simple actions that support healthy behavior change.
Looking forward to next year, Scanadu has crowd-sourced funding for a Star Trek tricorder that is going to take health tracking to a whole new level, economically monitoring heart rate, body temperature, blood oxygen, respiratory rate, blood pressure, ECG, and stress levels of patients. The impact of being able to economically monitor patients will allow for entirely new approaches to managing patient outcomes.
Conclusion: Get Ready For a Change of Epidemic Proportions
As we enter an era of medical price transparency, a deeper understanding of how to efficiently change behavior, and personalized tracking devices, Americans are about to undergo a true epidemic of healthy behavior. Hollywood won’t be making any blockbuster movies about this coming epidemic, but the results will definitely be dramatic!