Three Data-Driven Health Technologies I’d Like To See

Wed, 07/31/2013 - 9:37am
Robin Friedlander, MD

The digital health and wellness space is growing a mile a minute, with thousands of new sensors, apps, trackers, and websites promising ultimate health and fitness born every day. Data requests to MyFitnessPal’s API alone – from wearable sensors like Jawbone’s UP and Nike’s Fuelband to GPS-enabled tracking apps like Runtastic – roughly doubled from 28 million to almost 55 million in one month, between March and April of 2013.

We have entered a new era when it comes to the way individuals are able to collect, analyze, and share their health information. Yet we are still missing some basic data-driven technologies that I think would be very helpful both for me and for my patients, capabilities that I think could impact the ultimate driver of health – human behavior – for the better.

For example, I am longing for a photo food diary that patients can share directly with me. I have found that when I see photos of even a few days’ worth of what a patient is eating, I get a much deeper level of granularity in understanding how food is impacting their health. Written food diaries, even those penned by the smartest, most capable people, tend to be subject to time-lapse. People don’t – or don’t want to – remember everything they ate; the details get fuzzy.

The world is saturated with food diary apps, to be sure, but what I would like to see is a mobile plugin that would enable direct interaction between a patient and clinician. It would allow my patients to add any smartphone photo they take of a meal to a synched Dropbox-like folder that I can access. In a dream world, it would go right to their file in my EMR. In an even dreamier world (I know – dream big!) an analytics layer would tag each photo – not with subjective, user-generated, and inaccurate terms like “healthy” or “unhealthy” – but with concrete data points like “processed,” “restaurant,” “high sugar,” “contains caffeine,” and “low fiber.” It would then graph that data to give both of us a visualization of their individual eating habits. This way we would learn together.

The second data-driven application I would like to see is what I call a “financial health score” app. Essentially, the technology would track patient purchases the way Mint does, then assign each a score based on category (food, travel, medical, etc.) and a “health-factor” of 1-to-5. (Think Whole Foods vs. fast food, running shoes vs. a new TV, or gas vs. a bicycle.) As people increasingly use credit and debit cards for transactions everywhere, more and more data granularity will be possible. The score’s accuracy would improve with time and use.

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