The manager didn’t have any idea what the man was talking about. He looked at the mailer. Sure enough, it was addressed to the man’s daughter and contained advertisements for maternity clothing, nursery furniture and pictures of smiling infants. The manager apologized and then called a few days later to apologize again.
On the phone, though, the father was somewhat abashed. “I had a talk with my daughter,” he said. “It turns out there’s been some activities in my house I haven’t been completely aware of. She’s due in August. I owe you an apology.”
What does that have to do with Health Data Innovation? "The best minds of my generation are thinking about how to make people click ads," says Jeff Hammerbacher, co-founder and Chief Scientist at Cloudera. "That sucks." This quote also applies here. There is a lot of money to be made in understanding consumer behavior. But there is a lot of health gain to be made by putting the same energy into improving people's health by enhancing prevention, identifying early warning signs for diseases, better understanding effectiveness and side-effects of drugs and devices, and treat specific combinations of diseases. Instead of analyzing people's purchasing records, browsing history and reaction to different types of discounts, the smartest minds of our generation should analyze health records, personal history and reaction to different types of treatment.
A lot of health data are being collected on each individual. There are health records at general practitioners, outpatient facilities, hospitals, and emergency services; pharmacy records; vital registration records; health insurance data; responses to surveys, census, and other data collection efforts; participation in clinical trials; and many others. In addition, data used for marketing analytics can also be used for identifying health issues, including purchasing and browsing history, social media data, and many of the other data points listed in Target's data arsenal above. There are many triggers that could suggest that an individual should consult a physician, e.g. if people start buying unusual quantities of over-the-counter drugs, research specific symptoms online, tweet about sudden weight loss (or gain), or changing reading habits. Putting all these data sources together could provide a much deeper picture of someone's health than any provider's record.
Most consumers are appalled when they learn how much data retailers and other organizations amass on them. Compiling health data should happen with the permission of the patient. Some health care providers have started to collect broader data about their patients and use those data for prevention and more effective treatment. Kaiser Permanente has been a front runner in the quest to better use data for the benefit of the patient; they call it "collecting information for personalized high quality care". They just launched an Android App to make it easier for patients to access and submit information about their health.
There are many ways to improve how we currently deliver health care. Having more of the best minds of our generation working on data to improve health instead of improving ad responses and click rates would certainly help. Instead of a retailer knowing that a girl is pregnant (before her dad does), a physician should know that his patient is increasingly likely to have a heart attack (before he has one).