Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Hobbyhorse!

This is really worth your time:



(via Ezra Klein)

The cliff’s notes version here is that Thomas Goetz, the speaker, wants to redesign medical data. You may have noticed in your life of going to doctors that test data is rarely presented in a particularly helpful way for you, the patient. Not presenting the data in a helpful way reduces the odds that you, the patient, will act on said data in the most helpful way, and that creates a problem that’s pretty common to medicine: how to make sure people follow through on their prescriptions in the desired way. (Common, and huge: to take one problem that we haven’t really had to deal yet in the way doommongers predict—super bacteria that are invincible against any of the antibacterial that we know of.)

So Mr. Goetz makes what he presents as a modest, yet very difficult solution (have you heard this phrase about health care before?): redesign the data using color and other presentational tricks to put data in context and reveal your risk for, say, heart disease or diabetes and the like. It’s pretty compelling.

Compelling, but, as I say, modest—because what we should really be doing with data is much greater than that. What we should really be doing with data is: a) digitizing it; b) making it interactive. We’re familiar with the benefits in day-to-day life of interactivity with digital data—you might have heard of this Facebook company once or twice—and of course it’s an important part of many businesses. Data rules everything around us, except for health care.

So let’s expand on Goetz’s proposal and imagine a hypothetical Facebook of medical data. And let’s say you’re a diabetic. You have a test one day and you get the results, which are also posted on your online profile, where you can access and reference them from any computer at any time. Being a diabetic, you’re prone to testing yourself for your insulin levels frequently; what you might not be prone to is inputting them into your online medical profile. As you do that, the profile is able to make various calculations and update you as to your health—and your doctor. If your data gets crazily out of line, your doctor knows—perhaps your profile automatically schedules you for an appointment. You’re able to leave messages for your doctor and communicate as to what’s going on with your life. And so on and so forth. If you test yourself in other ways at home, you’re free to put that data in your profile too, and that’s linked up to all of the rest of the various tests and data that’s been going on with your life.

There’s so much medical data about each and every individual out there, but by and large it floats uncollected, like so much litter in the ocean. There’d be a big impact if they were to be collected.

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