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Putting It All Together

Jun 14, 2011, 12:54 PM, Posted by Steve Downs

I've just spent two stimulating days in DC, first going to the HHS/IOM Health Data Initiative meeting (aka "Datapalooza") and then at an HHS/Kaiser-sponsored Health Innovation Summit (see #futurehealth on Twitter).  What's clear is that this is an exciting time for innovation:  we're seeing companies pledging to enable patient downloads of their data (I heard "bluebutton" used as a verb for the first time); more releases of federal population-level data; and a gaggle of companies leveraging these data to offer terrific wellness apps.  The future's bright, indeed.

In thinking about how the pieces come together, the challenge seems a bit different now.  A few years ago, a key question was how to leverage the data in one's own personal health record to build apps that would help people take care of themselves.  An insight of the Pioneer-funded Project HealthDesign was that the data needed to drive those apps came not so much from the medical record but rather from the flow of life: observations of daily living (ODLs) about diet, exercise, sleep, mood, pain and more.  So apps needed a platform that would integrate both medical record data and this new set of patient-generated ODLs. 

Now, as I look around, I see multiple categories of data that one might want somehow integrated:  in addition to medical record data and ODLs, there's the population-level data that HHS and others are releasing (that can provide useful context and benchmarking), environmental data (mashing up your own geo-location data with data sets about the environmental factors associated with those locations), genomic data, and, of course, if you're the competitive type, comparative data from your social network.

What I've observed is many siloed apps.  I've got devices and web sites that either capture data (like the treadmill to the iPod to Nike+) or give me the opportunity to enter data (like putting my weight into Google Health), but nowhere that stores it all.  That doesn't bother me so much because at one level, where it's located isn't all that important as long as I'm confident that it's secure and reliable.  Missing are the abilities to a) present all of these disparately gathered data in some context that gives them meaning and b) to analyze these data to give me insights about patterns and correlations that would help me understand how to be healthier.  Where are the apps that will crawl across the different data stores and pull it all together? And what will they need to work? 

I'm curious to hear of companies that are trying to make this happen.  What are the best examples people have seen?

This commentary originally appeared on the RWJF Pioneering Ideas blog.