Bridging healthcare and personal technology

Frank Hopfgartner is a lecturer in Information Studies at University of Glasgow, and he co-organizes NTCIR-LifeLog, a shared evaluation task at NTCIR-12 on different methods of retrieval and access of multimedia lifelogging data. He will be the General Chair of HealthWear 2016, the EAI International Conference on Wearables in Healthcare (June 14-15, Budapest, Hungary), co-located with the eHealth 360° Summit 2016. In this interview, Dr. Hopfgartner talks about consumer perspective and latest developments in wearable devices in healthcare.

What is the central topic of HealthWear 2016 and why is it important? What is this event’s vision?

Frank Hopfgartner
Frank Hopfgartner, General Chair of HealthWear 2016

The main focus of HealthWear’16 is on the use of wearables for healthcare. With more and more wearable devices and smartphone apps being released that are capable of unobtrusively recording various aspects of our life, we are currently witnessing the emergence of a new health trend. Followers of this trend rely on apps and devices to track their every-day activities and to gain insights into their personal well-being. In fact, technology research and advisory companies such as Gartner Inc. predict that in the near future, a vast majority of consumers will collect or track personal data. As welcome as this development might be from a health perspective, it also comes with certain risks, in particular, when consumers start to rely more on their data rather than on professional advice from their general practitioner. The conference’s vision is therefore to promote research in this field to advance our understanding of the opportunities and limitations of wearables for healthcare.

What have been the recent developments in wearables for healthcare? What are the biggest challenges that this area is currently facing?

The activity of recording personal bio signals and metrics using software and tools is also referred to as self-tracking. Self-trackers use instruments to record numerical data on all aspects of their lives: input (food consumed, surrounding air-quality), states (mood, arousal, blood oxygen levels), and performance (mental, physical), to name a few. Such self-monitoring and self-sensing, which combines wearable sensors and wearable computing, is also sometimes referred to as lifelogging, although lifelogging describes the process of recording and storing any type of personal data rather than gathering bio-metrics to track personal well-being.

In 2011, the European Union agency ENISA evaluated the risks, threats and vulnerabilities of lifelogging applications with respect to central topics such as privacy and trust issues. In their final report, they highlight that lifelogging itself is still in its infancy but nevertheless will play an important role in the near future.

From a technical point of view, one of the main challenges of self-tracking and lifelogging is the processing and analysis of heterogeneous sensor data. With recent advances in machine learning and artificial intelligence, we see novel approaches (e.g., Deep Learning techniques) emerge that can be applied to interpret users’ data, and to help users in adopting a healthier lifestyle.

What are your expectations for HealthWear 2016?

The aims of the conference are to engage researchers from Healthcare, Data Science and HCI communities to discuss key issues, opportunities and obstacles for personal health data research using wearable devices. These include challenges of capturing, summarising, presenting and retrieving relevant information from heterogeneous sources to support a new vision of pervasive personal healthcare. I hope that the conference can help to foster collaboration between the different communities and to showcase research that sits at the border between different areas of research. For me, the most important aim of HealthWear’16 is to provide a forum where researchers from different communities feel at home and exchange ideas for future research directions.

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