Take two tweets and call me in the morning

By Dr. Allyson Brooks

If you're reading this on your phone (or your watch), I don't need to tell you how much technology has changed our lives.

But while many people list the ways in which gadgets are ruining our lives, I would like to make the case in favor of technology as helpful, hopeful and even curative.

From wearable fitness trackers to the joy we feel from an outpouring of "Happy Birthday" love on Facebook, technology offers important health benefits. If we use it correctly, our gadgets, gizmos and apps could help us stay healthier and happier.

Motivation

We know that we need to keep moving in order to stay healthy. But sometimes just "staying healthy" isn't motivation enough to get ourselves up out of our chairs.

Wearable fitness trackers and mobile fitness apps speak to our competitive instincts. Instead of playing Scrabble with friends, we're doing laps around our offices at lunch, trying to "beat" last week's "score." Or better yet, our co-worker's score. If John, one office over from, me walked 9,000 steps, I'm going to walk 9,500!

Some sites even offer incentives for attaining certain health care goals, like gift cards to fitness clubs or discounts for health screenings. Of course the biggest reward from the gamification of health care is better health.

Encouragement

In addition to tracking fitness progress and nutrition, new apps are keeping patients in contact with their physicians to help create a preventative care partnership. One we use at Hoag, Hart.com links patients to their providers and can be seamlessly incorporated into daily life.

In time, we will all have access to our comprehensive personal health records on our phones. Not just our medical records, but our eating habits, sleep patterns, blood pressure and other lifestyle choices. This will empower each of us to make the adjustments necessary to keep ourselves healthy.

Access

In all my years of practice, I have found that women tend to put their health care needs last. This I believe largely explains the success of urgent cares, minute clinics and other health care evolutions that accommodate busy patients.

And it is why the introduction of telehealth, off-site health care evaluations via Web cams and other technologies, is being so warmly adopted by patients and physicians alike. As patients we are more discriminating and discerning, wanting the best that health care has to offer. But as moms, spouses, workers and volunteers we don't always have the time to see the highest quality specialist in person. With telehealth, we have access to those top-tier specialists quickly, efficiently and cost-effectively.

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Connection

When the Hoag Women's Health Institute conducted focus groups and personal surveys of 1,800 women to develop the new Hoag for Her Center for Wellness Center, one of the overwhelming messages was that women want access to stress management and work-life balance programs. These were areas that people found lacking in their lives — and areas that sociologists say greatly improve with strong, meaningful social relationships.

Hoag has responded to the desires of the focus group with educational programs and psychology offerings. But Facebook, with its ability to keep far-flung friends seemingly close at hand, offers its own form of help. And while there is no substitute for a hug, I feel almost as excited and important when I get a text from someone I care about.

Apparently I'm not alone. A Pew Research study this year found that women who use Twitter several times per day, send or receive 25 emails per day, and share two digital pictures through mobile phones per day scored 21% lower on stress measurement tests than non-users.

Moderate social media usage connects us to family members and colleagues who buoy and understand us, and make us laugh. Technology, it seems, just might help us achieve the stress-relieving balance in our lives that we all crave.

Dr. Allyson Brooks is the Ginny Ueberroth Executive Medical Director Endowed Chair of the Women's Health Institute at Hoag.