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The Social Tech Guide to Health

The Social Tech Guide to Health

February 05 2015

By Ed Anderton
  • Health

Our research has gathered together a diverse, global spread of projects using technology to address our health needs: many of them proving too that this can be the basis of a successful business. This vibrancy in the sector speaks in part to the quantifiable nature of many of the issues being addressed: so many crucial tasks involve accurate, regular measurements and analysis of this data, which is precisely what digital technology does best.

While projects such as Smart Contact Lenses are creating entirely new measurement devices which push at the boundaries of what we are able to manufacture, the judicious use of the devices we already carry with us has proved its value for health in a myriad of ways.

Smartphones are being adapted to be used as a diagnostic tool in a wide variety of ways - Peek, IanXen-RAPID, Skin Analytics, MobileOCT - while many projects are proving that the humble SMS can also contribute to saving lives - PulsePoint, mPedigree, TxtAlert, MAMA.

Image courtesy of Peek

Teddy the Guardian, as well as being undeniably adorable, highlights a crucial point about our relationship with these devices measuring and analysing us: context and aesthetics are important, and have a bearing on the quality of the data produced. Relaxed patients give more accurate readings, and the technology which surrounds them can be alienating (for children and adults alike). Our other bear, Jerry, meanwhile, seeks to create an involving, comfortable context in which to learn how to manage your condition - a beautifully evolved tamagochi for diabetes.


Image courtesy of Jerry The Bear

The ease with which the web allows us to create communities of knowledge has also been eloquently exploited for better health. patientslikeme grew out of one family’s search for more information about ALS, and now hosts a community of 300,000, sharing experiences of 2,300 conditions, and producing in the process an invaluable data source which informs new research. The e-NABLE community combines the affordances of social software and 3D-printing, connecting a global voluntary network of patients and practitioners, collectively developing and improving the design of prosthetic hands.

Open Worm exemplifies what can be achieved when highly skilled specialists make use of digital technology to collaborate, build and share: in this case, the development of foundational tools for increasing our understanding of basic brain functions. Reverse the Odds has brought together a much larger, non-specialist community to perform a superficially ‘computer-like’ task - analysing millions of images of cancer cells - for which it has been proved human eyes are much better suited than computers.


Image courtesy of SpeakSet

Many of the projects above were founded in the UK, and the Nominet Trust has recognised the potential in the sector through our investments in the likes of Big White Wall, Speakset and DrDoctor. The range of ways in which we can see technology being thoughtfully incorporated into healthcare here and internationally suggest this will continue to be a vibrant and creative corner of the social tech community.

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