First there was health, which basically consisted of not dying, and also of being able to work and live alone (if need be) and generally function productively. Then there was Health 2.0, in which we added all kinds of gadgets—wrist bands, back bands, sleep monitors, calorie counters—in an attempt to quantify and alter our behavior patterns. But we were still completely focused on the body, and largely ignored the mind.
Health 3.0 is holistic. That means that it incorporates ideas not only about physical well-being, but also about mental well-being. It understands that the mind and body are deeply connected—even though there is still much we fail to understand about the brain. If nothing else, Health 3.0 takes into account that stress is a real thing, with real physical and chemical consequences. Reducing stress and seeking a life of balance is core to the next wave of health care.
In technology circles, we are at both an advantage and a disadvantage when it comes to implementing this next wave. Our advantage is that we understand and appreciate data; we’re prepared with our Health 2.0 sensors and accessories, prepared to deploy them in the name of something even newer and better. Our disadvantage is that, as in so many other industries, many of us still value workaholism and sweat equity. “Start-up” is practically a euphemism for lack of sleep, too much caffeine, and long hours in front of a monitor (hooray for you and your stand-up desk; you’re still probably awash in cortisol).
Employers are slowly starting to take notice of how employees’ well-being is impacting their bottom lines. There’s also a growing movement within the tech community to acknowledge the need for treating ourselves as whole people who need rest and balance. “Mindfulness” is starting to pop up as a popular session topic at un-conferences. And companies like Neumitra and SOMA Analytics are building tools to help measure and manage stress and its effect on behavior, while another recent crop of startups is bringing talk therapy to the mobile web. I expect we’ll see a lot more of this in the near future.
That can only be a good thing. For too long, we’ve tried to treat our minds as separate from our bodies. We’ve treated fatigue as a weakness, instead of a signal. And in so doing, we’ve actually cut off a significant part of our intellectual potential.
Rich Hickey, designer of the Clojure programming language and the Datomic database, gave a wonderful talk along these lines at the first Clojure Conj in 2010. Clojure is based on Lisp, but has an elegance all its own. In response to the questions he often gets about how he has made so many careful language design decisions, Hickey talked about a process he calls “hammock-driven development.” He has learned to get out of his own way, and to let his “background mind” solve some of the harder problems he faces. In order to give his background mind room to work, he relaxes in his hammock. While it sounds cute, this is a sound mind-body approach to creativity and problem-solving.
Much of the health care industry is still trying to catch up to that second version of health—Health 2.0—as providers and insurers begin to integrate electronic health records (EHRs) into their process and use data mining to identify the patients at greatest risk of hospital readmission. But the third wave is coming, and it goes way beyond technology.
Don’t get me wrong: there is plenty of room for programmers and technologists to make a huge difference in healthcare. But if you want to be truly innovative in that industry, you have to go beyond the body, beyond the taboos still surrounding mental health, consider the mind and body together, and address the whole human being.
You might try starting in your hammock.