Technology and Digital Health – the future for SEM?! Part two of a series from the RSM Exercise Medicine Conference, 2014

Undergraduate perspective on Sports & Exercise Medicine a BJSM blog series

By Rory Heath (@Roryjheath)

arm technologyMoore’s law states that technological developments double every year.. It also predicts that computer processing power will exceed all human brains combined by 2045. These trends are relevant to healthcare settings as the use of technological tools rise exponentially. Technology has huge potential in medicine to save money and time, aid acute treatment in hospital and serve as a tool to promote exercise as a disease preventative measure.

To share learning and encourage discussion about health + technology, here are the highlights from my Royal Society of Medicine (RSM) Exercise Medicine Conference session notes:

Wearable Tech – the future of healthcare. Mr Maneesh Sethi

  • Devices themselves are simple, with long battery life. The complicated software is in the user’s phone or other complimentary devices.
  • Wearable technology is a rapidly growing industry, with 150 million units estimated to ship next year.
  • Devices can currently track statistics such as: heart rate, temperature, O2 saturation, and perspiration rate. Healthcare can use the trend of ‘the empirical human’ to collect data, forewarn of disease and track progress.
  • Wearable technology allows tracking of larger sample populations in studies.
  • ‘We don’t know what we already do’. We overestimate our physical activity, and underestimate our calories ingested. Technology can provide unbiased data of our day-to-day activity.

How to form good exercise habits in the brain. Mr Maneesh Sethi

  • Exercise is a great ‘Keystone habit’ as it has subsequent positive knock-on effects on health behaviours.
  • The brain will associate an activity with habit when completed everyday, from 20 days (an easy activity) to 66 days (a more difficult activity).
  • Behaviours are difficult to initiate as they require executive function and energy. Habits become passive brain functions that require little energy, and are easier to maintain.
  • We become ‘dependent’ on habits. We notice when they are not fulfilled. Can we utilise this feeling to promote beneficial health behaviours?
  • Habits can be initiated through training; ‘Cue, routine, reward’. Behaviour = Motivation, Activity, Trigger. Technology can be used to provide these factors. Alternatively, technology can provide punishment to condition, borrowing from Pavlov’s experiments.
  • ‘Microhabits’ can promote greater change. They provide a progression to make change step by step. For example:
    Week 1: ‘Put on your gym clothes’.
    Week 2: ‘Put on your gym clothes, unlock the front door’.
    Week 3: ‘Put on your gym clothes, unlock the door and take a step outside’.

Biosensors and big-data – how elite sport and jet engines are transforming medicine. Dr Jack Kreindler

  • Data is great, but is it functional? First and foremost, when we collect data we must know what to do with it. We should use the huge amount of data available due to the exponential rise in technology (Moore’s law) to target healthcare’s biggest problems.
  • As price cuts set in we should embrace using technology to process patients’ data in healthcare. The cost of avoidable hospitalisation due to chronic disease is huge – can we use technology to prevent this?
  • Novel uses of technology: 3D printing of tracheal template covered with stem cells used successfully as a transplant in vivo by Dr Martin Elliot, GOSH.

Democratisation of exercise using technology. Mr Brian Snyder

  • Athletic technology allows the normal population to access treatment normally reserved for elite athletes. Coaching can be unaffordable and unreachable, but cheap technology allows people to access coaching in their own homes.
  • Exercising at home through videos is a linear process and offers no feedback. The use of technology allows interaction between the software and the person, promoting feedback and adaptation.
  • Using approaches found in the computer gaming industry, technology can be used to encourage people to exercise and motivate them to continue exercising.

Wearable sensors and physical activity research. Dr Aiden Doherty

  • Accelerometers are cheap and useful in research. They can be used on a large scale to measure the activity of populations.
  • Accelerometer accuracy is greatest at the hip, but usage at the wrist provides better compliance.
  • Wearable cameras are a useful tool to identify individual behaviours, assess environment (possible use in urban planning).

Using digital to build a health and fitness community. Ms Lulu Skinner

  • The advent of smartphones and computers as platforms for apps is quickly being used to promote exercise through online communities.
  • Technology and online presence can promote exercise by reducing barriers felt by the public , namely by, providing education and increasing confidence through advice and feedback.
  • Approaches taken by apps to make exercise competitive and constructive increase motivation.

Once again, I’d like to thank the organisers of the Exercise Medicine conference for producing a highly interesting and informative event. As a young medical student, it was a great opportunity to further my knowledge of a topic sparsely found in the medical school curriculum, whilst also cultivating new contacts with fantastic people. Next year’s event has already been scheduled and I highly recommend you reserve a place in your diary!

If you want to read part one of this two part series, go HERE.


Rory Heath (@roryjheath) is a third year medical student at King’s College London (KCL) and has a keen interest in sport, diet and exercise. He has played county rugby and rugby league for London and South. He is currently the KCL representative of the undergraduate London Sport & Exercise Medicine Society (LSEMS). ( He runs a Blog at

Dr. Liam West BSc (Hons) MBBCh PGCert SEM (@Liam_West) is a graduate of Cardiff Medical School and now works as a Junior Doctor at the John Radcliffe Hospital, Oxford. In addition to his role as an Associate Editor for BJSM he also coordinates the “Undergraduate Perspective on Sports & Exercise Medicine” Blog Series.

If you would like to contribute to the “Undergraduate Perspective on Sports & Exercise Medicine” Blog Series please email LIAMWESTSEM@HOTMAIL.CO.UK for further information.

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