Using tech for symptom check? Be careful.


I’m not a physician, and therefore, not qualified to write about a health-related topic. However, as a person who experienced small ups and downs to his health like anyone else, I know very well as to what causes discomfort to me.

The moment I feel some discomfort in my body the first thing I would do is Google for the symptoms. It took me an insanely long time to realize the fact that the deeper I delve, the search engine gives out results which point to something more ominous even for seemingly minor illnesses. It made me hyper-vigilant to my health. Some time ago, when I visited a physician, I had too many questions to ask him. After listening to my questions and responding to some of them, he asked curiously, “where did you find all these things?” I answered, ‘by googling’. The busy looking physician had a terse advice for me “don’t google”.

Ever since I stopped googling for symptoms for my apparently minor health-related issues, I managed to beat my worries, and the feel good factor which vanished from my mind has returned.

Monitoring your health and taking precautionary measures to safeguard it is a very good idea. After all, we don’t have anywhere else to live except in our bodies and we don’t have any spare bodies to enter into, after our existing bodies suffer irreversible damage. However, getting obsessed with health and being hyper-vigilant about it may be counterproductive.

In these days of technology explosion, where we are transiting from the people-centric Internet to the object-centric Internet of Things (IoT), I’m more concerned about the hyper vigilance the people may subject themselves to as far as their health is concerned. We have entered into an era of wearable devices, which give us real-time information about the vital signs of our health such as temperature, heart rate, blood pressure and breathing rate. These Wi-Fi enabled devices transmit the patient data to their health care providers, empowering them to constantly and continuously monitor the health of their clients so that they can take pre-emptive action, if something untoward is about to happen. The enormous amounts of data generated by the IoT-enabled wearable health monitoring devices, if captured and analyzed properly, can provide invaluable insights into the patient care and contribute to the enrichment of the healthcare sector. This is indeed a revolutionary technology which enables people, who suffer from major ailments, to feel more secure about their well-being and also enhance their life span.

However, the technology may also have an adverse impact on the seemingly healthy people, if it is deployed indiscriminately. If mere googling can trigger episodes of anxiety and transform people into hypochondriacs, imagine the kind of impact the IoT-enabled health monitoring devices will have on the people, especially if they have access to the data generated by the devices.

The 21st century is an age of stress and insecurity. Excessive career orientation and the blind pursuit of material things have contributed to rampant stress and insecurity. Even the apparently minor problems have the potential to trigger panic and dread among the people. Every technology has its own drawback and side effects. Technocrats and social scientists have already expressed their concerns over the safety, security and privacy of the people who use these IoT-enabled wearable devices.

Technology should be deployed only where it is required. However, the high disposable incomes and the widespread availability of wearable devices make people acquire them. These days, people want to flash their tech gadgets and brag about how tech savvy they are. The 24×7 real-time monitoring of their health, that too in this age of rampant stress and insecurity, will definitely have its undesirable effect on the health of the people. As usual, this is a topic which requires debate and discussion involving people, civil society, technocrats and the healthcare providers. The debate should result in the prescription of some cautions and safeguards so that these devices could be put to judicious use.

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