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Islands of Data

A large number of innovative devices are being designed and deployed. Most of these devices are designed to gather information and send it to a website. Unfortunately, the data is often available only on a web site where it cannot be used by another program or compared with data from other devices.

nike fuelband

The Nike FuelBand measures activity. The wearable band has an accelerometer and tracks your movement, calories, distance and time.


Lively makes a motion detector that monitors an elder person’s activity. Sensors attached to pill bottles indicate if a person is taking their medicine; sensors on doors indicate if a person has left the house. Alerts from sensors placed throughout the senior’s home keep remote family members informed of changes in regular activity.

Monitor my Meds logo

Monitor My Meds is a medication management system that allows you to record reminders in your own voice, schedule them, and get notifications to make sure that you’re taking your medication. Caregivers, doctors, hospitals, pharmacies, insurers and families use the system to monitor medication adherence and take action when necessary.

What kind of health data is being collected?

  • Billing data: Number one is billing data.  There are standardized billing, disease and treatment codes.  You can be sure, if payments are involved, that data is handled very well.
  • Healthcare delivery process data: There’s also lot of data for managing the healthcare delivery process.  Insurance companies and the medical professionals want to understand how well they process the handling of medical procedures. Number of cases, intake rates, closure rates, open dates of cases, case close dates are all carefully documented.
  • Medical professionals collect data:  Your doctor, your nurse, and others collect data.  And it often goes into computers, which are electronic health records. Examples are cholesterol, weight, blood pressure, and blood glucose.  At this time half of private doctors do not have electronic medical records, so this data is not easily shared.
  • People collect data about themselves: This is probably the longest list. People measure temperature, weight, heart rate, activity, medication tracking, learning, emotion, eating, sleep and the list goes on.  This data is kept on web sites, spreadsheets, and pieces of paper.  It is generally not possible to share this data with your doctor, except to show him on a piece of paper during a visit.

Creating islands of data

Unfortunately, much of this health data is being collect in isolated websites or systems, creating what I call islands of data. If you collect data from a FuelBand then switch to a FitBit, you cannot get a graph showing data from both sources.  Your old data is lost in a proprietary web site with limited accessibility.  Even if you can get the data, there is no standard format, so it may be hard to compare the two data sets. Much data cannot be accessed and transmitted to others, and often it’s not available to everyone: patients, doctors, and other care givers.  With the rapid introduction and adoption of these new devices, the issue of healthcare silos is going from bad to worse. Few solutions exist, but I am seeing an increased use of platforms, like Qualcomm Life, GE Home, and Infometers that aspire to connect healthcare data from many disparate systems.

Big questions remain

  • Who gets the data: Once it has been acquired from a medical device, who is it appropriate to share the data with: friends and family, health care providers, payers, pharmaceutical companies, or application and device technology partners?
  • Ensuring reliable data: What data can be trusted? Should a doctor make medical decisions based on data collected by a consumer device operated by an untrained consumer? There are also errors when professionals collect and enter data. When data formats are different there can be confusion as to how it was collected or what it means.
  • Creating electronic health records:  Electronic Medical Records (EMR) are highly regulated and have severe penalties for not handle data correctly. If you provide your data to a health care provider, it probably becomes EMR data. If it is collected on a web site, it is probably not EMR data. It is very important to recognize when the data becomes subject to these regulations.

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