imageHealth data is everywhere, but not much useful to drink.

Is #bigdata in health care at the top of the Hype Cycle? And how do we humanize it, make it relevant and useful for our everyday life? In other words, can this data help us hack our lives and health for the better?

That question has been on my mind for the past couple of years since the convergence of big data and data analytics and health has emerged.

Yesterday at the 2014 South-by-Southwest happening, I attended a panel discussion called Hacking Your Life For Better Health (#hacklife on Twitter).  The session was led by Fred Trotter (@fredtrotter) who is one of the great minds thinking about health data these days.

While I was listening and tweeting during this session, one panelist said “patient engagement” wasn’t the same as “consumer engagement.” When I posed the question of how can we better inform health-tech design with input from the “mass middle” of people/consumers (when asked to clarify, I spoke out, “people who shop at Target and Walmart”), this panelist proceeded to wax lyrically about the power to tap into health claims data and apply algorithms that can generate insights…I got lost in the waxing.

What became even more clear to me listening to this discussion about hacking health with data: we are all patients, but none of us really, truly wants to “consume” health care. Yet to become more mindful and more engaged in our health, that pursuit must be incorporated into our daily life-flow, as – yes – consumers, or better yet, people.

We, the People, want to live our lives as robustly and empowered as possible. To do so – to embrace Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness – we need to be healthy.

Michele Polz was a panelist representing Sanofi, the pharmaceutical company. Michele and her team are looking at data well beyond the pharmacy claims data for diabetes drugs into peoples’ life-flow – how they move around, live their lives. She and her group are weaving together the data from both the health “care” system and observations of daily living – the ODLs that embody the data of How We Live every day. It’s in that combination of data from “everywhere” where the real insights lie. This is powerful stuff, and Polz is an innovator to watch.

Another key question came from Bill Drummy of Heartbeat Digital, a leader in social media and data analytics especially in pharma. Bill challenged the point made by a panelist that the ROI on wearable tech for health tracking isn’t yet believable. Bill countered that view that a SXSW speaker from Aetna earlier in the day asserted that there was indeed a payback in the use of activity tracking, and that BodyMedia has a treasure trove of data on peoples’ use and outcomes with tracking. (Separately, I know this to be the case, having worked with BodyMedia and seen such data).

Health Populi’s Hot Points: The forecast for the supply side of health sensor-laden devices is bullish. Wearables are the new-new thing talked-about in SXSW sessions, and mentioned in a handful of educational sessions two weeks ago at the more traditional industrial-vibed HIMSS annual conference (focused on institutionally-based electronic health records and big data analytics companies).

But wearables and the proliferation of health data are not the end-game: they are the means to driving behavior change in individuals (the N of 1), and population health improvement for the N of many.

This will require all of us to play in that great health ecosystem sandbox with the Fred Trotters of the world, driving ever toward data liquidity and pivoting from, as Dr. Jeffrey Benabio noted earlier in the day:

  • Connectivity to connections
  • Predictive to persuasive
  • Information to insights.

Lay on top of this the human/person-centered design ethos – I daresay “consumer” lens – and we are on the road to achieving real value-based care for real people.