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Personal Healthcare: Big Data Great, Small Data Better

Big data holds unlimited promise in healthcare, but first we must make small data seamless, simple, and inexpensive.

Big data is a big deal for healthcare. It will help uncover correlations that can lead to cures and treatments for disease. However, small data is important, too -- information from individuals can ultimately contribute to big data and lead to important discoveries.

The big question: Can we make personal healthcare seamless, simple, and inexpensive for each patient? If we manage to do this we'll accomplish something that no one has yet achieved.

Creating "personal" health management tools for complex consumers is not easy. A familiar term these days is "population health" -- it means coming up with solutions to manage personal health behavior in a systematic way while remaining accountable to very large groups of diverse people. The right kind of technology can certainly help do that, but only if it is flexible enough to adjust to the needs of everyone -- from healthy people to those with chronic conditions who need assistance managing their illness -- without making them feel bogged down.

[IoT holds unlimited potential -- will we use its powers wisely? Read Internet Of Things: Limitless Dumb Possibilities.]

The best case would be a tool that can manage our health in a way that is passive or that results from tasks we are already doing. An example is the Ginger.io population management tool platform, which assesses patient behavior through sensor data collected through an app or smartphone. It notifies your doctor if it detects behavior changes that match clinical indications of depression or other diseases, with no action required by you, the patient.

I've assembled this Personalized Medicine Model as a framework to help guide self-monitoring and care. As you will see, all four areas are interconnected:

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Genetic data is supported by both lifestyle and interventional data, and the monitoring function tracks and balances it all. For example, people with diabetes could monitor their diet and exercise programs, and that data could help them and their physicians determine whether they need different medications or new diet or exercise programs.

Tech companies recognize the potential of smartphones to boost population health and are rushing to get innovative solutions to the market. The company that can save patients and healthcare providers money while also improving patients' health will be king: Billions of dollars are at stake if we can connect the dots between the small data that can maximize an individual's personal care and the big data that can uncover solutions that can have a global impact.

A serious challenge for technology experts is how to ensure privacy as we track and quantify biometrics and other information as never before. A Ginger.io solution that can collect data effortlessly and provide practicable alerts for care shows promise, and it's already HIPAA-compliant.

It's not yet clear whether physicians fully understand the benefits of health platforms like Google Fit, Apple's HealthKit, and Samsung's SAMI. Many practitioners may feel that they already have enough challenges without needing to track additional datasets. Time will tell whether providers will tap the power of these tools.

But as healthcare systems across the country implement EHR systems, it makes sense to extend access to consumers and patients. These systems can help patients integrate their health information with "life-logging" devices to manage their own chronic conditions, for example, or simply to know when to schedule a colonoscopy. Physicians who have so far been unimpressed with digital health technologies may come around once they see the benefit of having EHRs connected with personal health platforms that facilitate care for all patients.

That may be the seamless, simple, and inexpensive solution we are looking for.

Healthcare providers must look beyond Meaningful Use regulations and start asking: Is my site as useful as Amazon? Also in the Patient Engagement issue of InformationWeek Healthcare: IT executives need to stay well informed about the strengths and limitations of comparative effectiveness research. (Free registration required.)

Editor's Choice
Samuel Greengard, Contributing Reporter
Cynthia Harvey, Freelance Journalist, InformationWeek
Carrie Pallardy, Contributing Reporter
John Edwards, Technology Journalist & Author
Astrid Gobardhan, Data Privacy Officer, VFS Global
Sara Peters, Editor-in-Chief, InformationWeek / Network Computing