According to my mobile device I took about 5,300 steps yesterday, which was slightly more than the day before. While this is interesting for me to track my activity levels, I doubt most other people would care, except perhaps my doctor or health insurance provider. But this does put me in a growing group that is potentially leading the way to a revolution in healthcare.
In a recent Washington Post article, currently one in 10 American adults own fitness tracking devices. In addition there has been an “explosion in extreme tracking” where more and more people use them not just as step counters, but also to monitor heart rate, stress, sleep cycles, and just about every other possible measurable biometric via wearable technology. In fact, we have a couple of people who fit this description here in our own offices. This is creating tons of data – big data – for doctors and insurance carriers to synthesize.
The promise from all this big data could be enormous, such as being able to catch if someone is pre-diabetic from data transmitted from wearables could allow doctors and patients to start treatment, track progress, and hopefully to avoid diabetes all together. In the long run this could help keep health costs lower and people healthier and more productive. Likewise, if someone’s data shows them to be healthy, their insurer can charge less and even change rates on a daily basis rather than yearly.
Right now, who the data will be shared with depends on specific cases. Health tracking services may sell to individuals or employers as wellness programs, but the same data they track for could be sold to insurers, or shared with doctors. As with other areas where big data intersects with healthcare, privacy is of utmost concern. Sharing and privacy policies are poised to mature right along with this technology.
Wearable technology is just one aspect of how big data is changing healthcare and affecting people’s day to day lives. By tracking simple things like heart rate and even just the number of steps I take each day, healthcare is on its way to becoming more personalized, more specific, and perhaps even less expensive.