We are all just data
All that was to be known about your health and wellbeing generally used to be the preserve of your GP. Your health records used to be just what your doctor ordered – there was no other tangible source of health data.
Fast forward to today and we consumers are spewing out health and wellbeing data left, right and centre. This is not just about wearables, collecting your steps, heartbeat and poorly guessing your calorie burn. This is online DNA tests and health checks, connected gym equipment collecting your activity. This is apps like MyFitnessPal tracking everything you eat and do, your phone understanding if you’re walking, running, cycling or driving. This is next generation wearables and sensors that can detect a number of health issues before they happen, from socks that detect Parkinsons to AI in phones that detect episodes of mania. Never before have we been so in control of our own health.
And yet, so out of control.
Consider all the companies and organisations mentioned above. The NHS, Fitbit, 23 and Me, AXA, Technogym, Under Armour (MyFitnessPal), Apple, Google and all the cutting edge startups developing bespoke wearables. Your health data could be flowing through any or all of them, hopefully with the aim of making you fitter, healthier and live longer. But right now, there’s very little interoperability at play here. There’s no single standard for your health data, no single source or destination for it. And critically, there’s no single owner and no real control.
Yes, GDPR now gives you the right to control, block and access any or all of it. But what good is it to you? It’s an awful lot of data with thousands of data points from dozens of sources collected in a multitude of fashions. Even the most experienced data analyst or health professional would struggle to process so much information.
Rather, the power of each of these datasets exist when they are pooled together – when contemporary machine learning capabilities are put to work to discover patterns in your health data, uncover issues before they happen and guide you to meaningful outcomes. Heck, AI is even being put to work reading and interpreting your doctor’s scrawly handwriting – so even your GP’s notes are fair game.
In a connected world of health data, you’re not getting the usual and useless “Do 10000 steps”, “eat less”, “you have high cholesterol”, “you had 3 hours of REM sleep” sort of non-advice. You’re getting bespoke, tailored and actionable outcomes. Your actual health records become dynamic and connected – giving your GP an unparalleled view on your wellbeing. It enables the creation of Precision Medicine; curative drugs customised to suit the individual, not the masses. With massively connected health data, experts can predict, prevent, and map the outbreak of epidemics. The possibilities are forever growing and seem potentially endless.
But there’s work to be done by all of us. The companies involved need to get their act together and treat our precious data with some respect if they expect us to cede control of it to them. The health system needs to modernise and accept external health data as a trusted source of useful information. The manufacturers of “lifestyle” wearables need to sort out their accuracy issues and deliver reliability. And critically, everyone needs to work together and, with your permission, share and use your data in a meaningful and useful way. Your Fitbit won’t be shoved in a drawer when it gives you richer insight into your poor sleep and how to action it. Your health insurer will give you demonstrable ways to avoid illness – obviously saving them money but giving you a better quality of life. And your GP proactively contacts you to intervene on illness or growing conditions before they become a critical concern.
This is not a pipe dream. This connected world of health is already starting to become reality in every facet. When everyone gets on board for the greater good – our health and wellbeing can only improve. Live long and prosper.