Wearable health devices are playing an enormous role in this revolution by helping track your metrics passively.
Swissnex San Francisco explored the topic of Big Data and Health Devices together with The Hive, a Silicon Valley Big Data incubator on March 6th. Roger Magoulas (Director of Research at O’Reilly Media), Ian Blumenfeld (Data Scientist and Co-Founder of InSample), and Rachel Kalmar (Data Scientist at Misfit Wearables) talked about how data science is transforming healthcare, and how we can improve our health by using devices and better analyzing the metrics we track. (videos)
In anticipation of the event, I wore a Fitbit One around my ankle for two weeks. I learned that I sleep anywhere from 6 ¼ to 7 ½ hours a night (far from the nine hours I know I need, though I was painfully aware of this already), and average around 9,300 steps per day—not too far off the recommended 10,000 despite rarely exercising. Thank you San Francisco hills!
Two weeks is not a long enough to track any meaningful change, so perhaps that explains why I’m not terribly excited about steps and sleep. However, I would be about other metrics, like the types of food I consume and how they may relate to my overall well-being. For example, after giving up meat 18 months ago, I am still having a hard time measuring change in my health, if any. Am I really feeling more sluggish? Is it related to my change in diet? I’d love to have an app or a sensor to track what is good for me and what is not.
The myth of the average patient
Everyone has different priorities in their lives, different issues, and different motivators. The good thing is, these days there is probably a way to measure and analyze it. Even from my limited use of the One I grasp the value of regularly seeing solid numbers, lines, trends, and patterns of behavior. I’m not alone. According to a recent Pew study, seven in 10 people in the US track a health indicator for themselves or a loved one, and about the same number of healthcare consumers would like to see their health data shared. This is a good thing. After all, the more data collected, the more value these data have to make predictions for the future.
Connected devices like the One hold promise for personalized care far beyond wellness and fitness. In healthcare, they may help us shift away from the concept of an average patient toward tracking, understanding, and preventing illnesses as they relate to you and me as individuals. Combined with ever improving techniques for genomic sequencing, this is powerful stuff. The ability to create, store, distribute, and analyze Big Data has opened countless possibilities toward better understanding a myriad of things about our health. It turns out, there is a lot to learn.
Five exabytes of data
In August 2010, Google’s Eric Schmidt cited these numbers: between the dawn of civilization until 2003, humankind created five exabytes of information. Since 2003, we create as much every two days. The exact number has been disputed,sometimes vehemently, but the principle remains the same. With the advent of the Internet and online storage, distribution and creation of information, we now produce more data than ever at an exponential rate.
It is no surprise that Big Data has become a buzzword, hailed by some as the new oil and a key currency. Nowhere does this ring truer than in the $2.8 trillion US healthcare market, projected to soar to $3.5 trillion in 2016. Big does not always mean better, and with the newly amassed amounts of data gathered, we are also just now learning how to make sense of it all. Despite a trend toward a sharing economy, we have a long way to go in healthcare before we can begin asking the right questions.
The future of digital health
The data-driven revolution in healthcare is profound. Wearable health devices like the One are playing an enormous role in this revolution by helping track your metrics passively. But if you are like me, and strapping a variety of devices on every morning is not your cup of tea, there is always your smartphone. Dr. Eric Topol, a prominent proponent of the potential of wireless medicine, already prescribes more apps these days than medications.
Countless apps and additional sensors to track your blood sugar levels or even perform an EKG are already available and sending real-time information to your healthcare provider. While this might sound like science fiction, it is indeed the future. As we collect increasing amounts of data, and increasingly share information, we begin to see a clearer image of our health, in which treatments will become more effective and personalized, healthcare costs will decrease, and consumers will become more engaged with their own health outcomes. In the end, there is something quite big at stake: the possibility of leading healthier, better lives.
Photo credit: Baby Center