Who owns my health status? Data collections from today & trends for tomorrow.
Written: 02-08-2015

When I think about my health status, I am not thinking in the same terms as I would my Facebook status. Although, that wouldn’t be an improper perspective to have. Health status can change on a daily basis, depending on the current virus going around. Or the latest athletic injury I’m trying to make a recovery from. This type of status is ephemeral, just like my Facebook postings – which is often done based upon some thought or feeling I had in the moment.

Now the long-term status of my health is a little different. It does not have as much variation and is fairly constant – until the moment it isn’t. These changes in a health status are often the result of some impact event. A diagnosis of major disease, an accident, an environmental exposure or any of the other multitude of things that could take a fairly steady level of health and abruptly alter it.

Understanding these two different perspectives on our health status: short-term, current status vs. long-term health – I believe that I see two different approaches to answering the question: “Who owns my health status?”

Short-term, current status = I see people that believe they own this.

Long-term health = I see people own it, until they need medical support at which point they are willing to sign over the ownership to others.

The question becomes significantly more complex when you move from behaviors and mind-set, to include the financial implications of your health status. Is the financial responsibility yours, your employers, the insurance company’s, government’s or some general societal ownership?

What happens when your health and health status becomes digitized?

The reality of our health data and status of our well-being being as digitized and as common place as our Facebook status updates is not that far away. Now, don’t mistake what I’m saying. I’m not saying that our health information and evaluations will be like a Facebook status, but we will be as comfortable seeing all of our digital health information as we are seeing our latest activity feed on our personal activity feed.

We will also find that we will have access to all of our data. As easy as it is to login to your social network profile, you will be able to login and see the results of your latest lab tests, the physicians notes, expected follow schedules, weight changes, fitness levels, nutritional influences, etc.

It is at this point that the question regarding, “who owns your health status” that really needs a lot of figuring out. As I continue to think about these things in my own personal life, I know that my default answer is that I want to own these items. I want to be the person responsible for it. Empowering me to seek advice and consultation from those who can best offer it – when needed. I realize that today, we are unaccustomed to being the owner of our medical data and information, so taking over that responsibility will come with a great amount of anxiety from individuals and professionals alike.

Collecting Health Data Today

As a fun discussion starter, I wanted to share what I use today to collect health and fitness data:

Sleep Duration & Quality: Sleep Number bed with Sleep IQ. It provides a score each night, with total sleep, total restful sleep, time awake, average heart rate, average breathing rate.

Exercise Behavior: I use a variety of options, but the devices I rely on for exercise collection are Garmin GPS Watch with heart rate strap (210) and iSmoothRun Iphone App, which are used to primary log running exercise (can use on bike too when that happens). I also use a basic google form daily, which I collect information on current goals, which allows me to collect more general exercise activity.

Activity Data: Fitbit One and Polar Loop. I use both, primary because I haven’t found anything that works better than the Fitbit One, however I like the concept of a wrist worn device. I was intrigued by the idea of the HR capabilities of the Loop initially, however it never really worked well enough to continue trying. (I’m very excited to test the Fitbit Surge to potentially replace all of these devices).

Weight and Body Composition: Withings and Fitbit wifi scales. It might be a sign of the data collection obsessiveness that I use two scales everyday (literally one right after the other), however it’s fun to see how they vary. (Maybe I’ll share that data some day when I can put it all together.)

As you can imagine, one challenge is aggregating the data into a single location that makes it all capable of being used. What I would imagine is that someday, we’ll have several large repositories that exist in the cloud for all of our information – but we’ll be capable of granting access to various apps and services to specific data types, for specific purposes. This would be very similar to how you allow various apps access to your Facebook profile or Gmail contacts.

Trends to pay attention to in the next five years?

To get a vision of how the medical profession will be impacted by this type of digitalization, I recommend you read “The Patient Will See You Now” by Eric Topol, M.D. He envisions an interesting world, in which the individual really does own their own health status. In reading his vision of the future, I felt like he relied a little too much on the mobile phone as the device that enables progress, but that’s understandable because the phone is an easy place to get people thinking about these changes. My counter-point would be: 10 years ago I didn’t know a single person with an iphone, so believing that the phone is the center of the system in another 10 years, seems limiting. (Personally, I’d rather we just get to the point where I can inject a couple hundred cc’s of computer chips and be done with it.)

The biggest trends that he discussed that I find appealing:

– decreased expense and difficulty of many diagnostic medical services
– individualized health and medical services, based upon a data driven methods
– increased sensor capabilities and proliferation
– improved data analysis and predictive capabilities

With the recent news of Under Armour purchasing MyFitnessPal and Endomondo, it’s clear that the athletic clothing company is wanting to continue to move towards the digitized future. If I could have one request for immediate sensor-enabled clothing development, I’d like to see them make a pair of shorts or shirt that would monitor waist and hip circumference. Simply log the circumference each time the piece of clothing is put on. Just do it! (or.. wait, that’s another athletic clothing company).

Whatever the future may bring, it’s exciting to think of the possibilities.

In the movie, The Imitation Game, Alan Turing is at work trying to get “Christopher” to function. He’s connecting the circuits and it is taking so much time and effort. At a tipping point, some of the others working on the problem come in to destroy the machine because they believe that all the time is being wasted. They need Turing’s knowledge to help solve the puzzle manually, with brain power.

I can not possibly see 50 years into the future, I don’t even think that 10 years from today is easily projected. But, I’m guessing that it isn’t that far away from today that we will look back and see that the digitalization of our health status, was about as intuitive and sensible as it was for our social lives. There will be a lot of bumps and anxiety along the way.