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Health Datapalooza Recap: Will Self-Tracking Data Matter?

June 6, 2013
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Health Datapalooza IV has come and gone. Approximately 2,000 people came to Washington D.C.’s Omni Shoreham hotel to talk healthcare, data, and everything in between. Personally, I had a great time. I saw some great speeches, met some nice folks, and was able to digest a lot of interesting healthcare-related apps.

The event also opened my eyes to an emerging question to the world in which we all frequent: can patent-generated data be effectively infused with traditional clinical data? I sat on a number of break-out sessions that touched upon this concept. One of the best ones featured Susannah Fox, Associate Director of the Pew Internet and American Life Project, Naveen Selavdurai, co-founder of Foursquare, Roger Magoulas, director of market research at O’Reilly Media, and Jodi Daniel, director of office policy and planning at the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC).

Fox presented some interesting information to show how widespread self-tracking has become in this world. Most of the findings can be found here, but here are a few highlights:

  1.          60 percent of U.S. adults say they track their weight, diet, or exercise routine.
  2.          33 percent of U.S. adults track health indicators or symptoms, like blood pressure, blood sugar, headaches, or sleep patterns.
  3.          12 percent of U.S. adults track a health indicator on behalf of someone they care for.

Many people, Fox mentioned during her presentation, track things in their head. She called it the “skinny jeans” effect. This refers to when people track how much they weigh by what kinds of clothes they can fit into.

However, emergence of tracking mobile apps such as the thousands that are out there currently and specific devices like the ones from Jawbone, Nike, or Fitbit has made formal tracking more widespread. A study from ON World, drove the idea that this an exploding market. ON World reported that shipments for mobile sensing health and fitness devices-- including dedicated devices and health/fitness enabled smart devices such as smart watches, smartphones and tablets— will reach 515 million in 2017, up from 107 million last year.

This emergence has made the data attached to these tracking devices and apps available. And now there are questions as to how it can help improve health outcomes at a population level? This question was asked during the panel by Magoulas.

“How can we take this tracking data and break it off into more useful, correlated data?” Magoulas pondered. He suggested that it will be helpful for personalized medicine. However, he then recognized that there were a lot more questions that had to be answered before any of this could happen, such as can tracking become enough of a cultural norm that researchers get enough useful data?

Still, it would appear there are attempts at progress in this area across the country.

The panelist’s moderator, Abdul Shaikh, program director for health communications and informatics research, at the National Cancer Institute, noted how there a few initiatives, such as the Health Data Exploration project, that are exploring this question. The Health Data Exploration initiative is from the California Institute for Telecommunications and Information Technology project, with funding from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. It is a collection of various multi-disciplinary researchers looking to figure out how the data used from health tracking devices can be used by health researchers to figure out insights into personal and population health.

Later on at Health Datapalooza, I listened to a panel, featuring Joe Selby, M.D., the executive director of Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute (PCORI). Selby talked at-length about the organization’s mission to connect patient-generated data with clinical data research. “You cannot report on patient-outcomes without patient-generated data,” he told the audience.

Kaiser is also looking to tap into this phenomenon. During the conference, the integrated care delivery organization, announced it was launched open application programming interfaces (APIs) for developers to link its clinical data with individually patient-generated data.

Much like patient engagement was a major theme at HIMSS13, patient-generated data dominated the discussion at Health Datapalooza. So while this area is still untapped and uncertain, the mere fact that it’s being talked about in this large, influential conferences shows you that the empowered patient movement is in full force.

Thoughts? Feel free to leave comments below or respond to me on Twitter by following me at @HCI_GPerna.