Is healthcare technology coming to your supermarket?

Recently, Mondelēz International, Inc., maker of Cadbury chocolates and Trident gum, announced it is developing “smart shelves,” which will use sensor technology to detect consumers’ gender and age. Armed with this consumer intelligence, the company plans to create real-time, targeted ad campaigns. This piece delves into the possibilities this type of technology could have on patient empowerment and the overall improvement of population health.
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If you’ve seen Minority Report, you may recall the mall scene where Tom Cruise walks by the Gap and a quick retinal scan enables the store to identify him and create direct advertising based on his shopping preferences.  The possibilities for tailoring sales experiences seem limitless with customer intelligence such as this, but what if we applied this concept to the healthcare arena?

A recent article in the Wall Street Journal explores how Mondelēz International, Inc., maker of Cadbury chocolates and Trident gum, is developing “smart shelves” with sensor technology that will be able to detect the gender and age of potential customers.  This new shelving will collect the data, identify the preferences and interests of potential customers and, via television screens, create customized incentives to “sweeten” the deal.

So it seems Minority Report’s futuristic depiction of personalized technology that enhances the daily lives of people everywhere may not be that far off.  Here are some visions of how such technology can be applied to the patient as consumer and the overall quantified-self movement:

Nutritious eating education:  Wearables could connect with kiosks or interactive freestanding units capable of translating health data into suggested actions and advice.  What if “smart shelves” were placed in grocery stores, not with the intent of selling a certain product, but instead helping shoppers make informed dietary decisions?  For instance, sensors could detect low blood sugar for a diabetic and suggest an appropriate healthy snack and its location in the store.

Keeping kids moving:  What if a child, who is tagging along with his or her parent in a mall, could be prompted by screens to participate in a fun exercise or learn a quick fact about wellness, similar to the Coach Hooper exercise segments for children on PBS?  Sensor technology could provide education and encourage healthy lifestyles for children at an early age.

Supporting healthier lifestyles:  Looking to quit smoking?  Sensors located in a wearable device, such as those developed by Neumitra, could detect increasing cortisol levels in a smoker and suggest stress-reducing alternatives to lighting up a cigarette.  This type of technology could also be embedded into programs such as SilverSneakers, helping participants monitor their vitals and track their health progress.  Health information collected during workouts at gyms or fitness centers could be translated into suggestions designed to intensify workouts or proposing alternatives based on data and personal health information.

Allowing doctors to be doctors:  Not only does this type of technology hold the key to improving patient engagement and overall health outcomes; it can also provide additional assistance to physicians.  Virtual assistants outfitted with sensor technology could provide a daily patient run-down when the doctor enters the office.  Or perhaps the sensor technology pairs with GPS and the daily hospital admissions lists and, detecting the doctor current location and direction of travel provides detailed navigation throughout meandering hospital corridors, while verbally briefing the attending on the latest patient information.

The true purpose of current changes in healthcare is to provide better health outcomes for patients, and technology’s role is to intelligently support both patients and physicians throughout these transitions.  As the industry shifts to value-based care models, advances such as “smart shelves” will prove vital not only to increasing patient engagement but also improving overall population health.  Sensor technology could, in essence, become the virtual healthcare assistant that educates patients so they are able to make better decisions in their everyday lives.


Dr. Nick van Terheyden

About Dr. Nick van Terheyden

This is a contributed post by Dr. Nick van Terheyden. As a pioneering creator in the evolution of healthcare technology, he brings a distinctive blend of medical practitioner and business strategist to the realm of health IT. To see more content like this, visit the Healthcare section of the blog.