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Can Digital Health Prevent You from a Premature Death?

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“Prevention is better than cure,” said Desiderius Erasmus, the Dutch Renaissance humanist and scholar. Now, a modern report on technology highlights just this concept, and in the process emphasizes the value of digital health in aiding prevention.

“Prevention is better than cure,” said Desiderius Erasmus, the Dutch Renaissance humanist and scholar. Now, a modern report on technology highlights just this concept, and in the process emphasizes the value of digital health in aiding prevention.

In this year’s Internet Trends report, the authoritative assessment of the Internet’s evolution, Mary Meeker of Kleiner Perkins Caulfield Byers featured various components of digital health. The report shows a relationship—albeit not necessarily a correlation—between the volume of health data being shared, the number of wearable devices, and health apps and the increasing power placed in the hands of consumers to manage and improve their own health.Image

In one powerful statistic, Meeker’s report showed that 40 percent of premature deaths—the largest proportion of such deaths—are due to behavioral factors such as smoking, obesity and inactivity, and alcohol abuse. This figure indicates that consumers can proactively avoid premature death by becoming better informed about their own health and, if/when motivated, taking action to avoid the risk factors.

Meeker also points out that, at 30 percent, genetics makes up the next largest factor in premature death. While it may be easy to assume that genetic causes of disease defy prevention, a classic article in Health Affairs demonstrates that only two percent of all deaths in the United States are due to purely genetic influences, such as Huntington’s disease or rare childhood cancers. Therefore, we can conclude that most risks from genes are probabilistic, and our behaviors and environmental factors may drastically reduce our overall risks for certain diseases even when a genetic predisposition may exist. In aggregate, the data presented shows that more than 70 percent of premature deaths can be prevented. It’s my strong belief that digital health can help significantly to change this statistic.

This data on genetic disease risk and behavioral choices places increased focus on the value of personal genetic tests like those from 23andMe and Pathway Genomics, for example. While these direct-to-consumer and doctor-facilitated consumer genetic reports are in their nascency, they represent an enormous opportunity for consumers to be informed of their own genetic makeup and to leverage other, complementary digital tools designed to help them in health planning and monitoring. This may be a clear example of newly available information being used to motivate individuals to follow a better health path, thereby hopefully avoiding becoming one of the aforementioned premature death statistics.

At Popper and Co., we’re applying our diverse expertise and interests to find new directions and dimensions in the digital health world. Follow us on Twitter, sign up to receive our e-newsletter, or contact one of us to learn more.

image: grave/shutterstock

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