New consumer sensors let doctors monitor their patients from afar, and might make health care cheaper and more efficient
You may be weary of pundits bearing buzzwords about "data" and "big data" and proclaiming the geeky good news that the solutions to your problems are merely a set of numbers and a good algorithm away. But the proposition is being taken seriously by the health care industry.
Providers are inspired by the convergence of two separate trends: the proliferation of ever-cheaper sensors and the Obamacare-inspired need to make more-informed decisions in order to deliver good care for less money.
Many people carry or own devices that can act as sensors. Smartphones have accelerometers that can measure physical activities and advanced cameras that can provide evidence for interpretation. These devices are becoming more sophisticated; Microsoft's Kinect camera, for instance, can estimate blood pressure based on how flushed a user appears.
Consumers' willingness to carry sensors everywhere becomes important as providers are incentivized by the Affordable Care Act to keep costs down while improving outcomes. Acting on this newly available wealth of data—perhaps by intervening earlier, more cheaply and effectively—might benefit providers that are increasingly paid for quality, rather than volume, of care.
Patients might not love the sense of being in the panopticon. Penn State recently ended its wellness program, which sought sensitive lifestyle data from employees (asking men, for example, whether they conducted regular testicular self-exams) and imposed a $100 monthly penalty for noncompliance. Employees organized and protested what were perceived as intrusive questions, causing the program to end.