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Digital Health

19 August 2012 by NCCMMS

Why does a blog on medical modeling and simulation collaboration care about the various ways to track one's health via commonly available technology?  Why do we care about electronic health records and other historical information relative to one's health?

It's the data.

Models and simulations are data-hungry tools.  Data is sustenance to models and simulations -- without it, they have nothing to feed the algorithms and queries that make up most models and simulations. For those of us still wrapping our heads around M&S as a tool, think of data this way:

Algebraically, the polynomial X+Y=Z is not a terribly difficult problem -- assuming you have at least two numbers to substitute for XY, or Z.  Without at least two numbers - the data - this problem becomes unsolvable. 

One of the great but mostly unspoken benefits of electronic health records is the potential to gather and use data from individuals, and in the aggregate, communities that physicians and health professionals can leverage in the increasingly complicated task of diagnosing and treating people accurately and with economy.  Electronic health records, as they exist today, are incomplete and not interoperable.  They certainly don't collect information such as "I felt like crud today" or "I ran six miles today and my left knee hurts and I'm running on 18 month old neutral last running shoes and ....." all which may be useful to a diagnosis.  Most people don't track themselves completely - I'm of the opinion that our personal health memories are mostly founded in personally catastrophic events. 

Capturing personal data may appear fairly narcissistic or obsessive-compulsive, but it might play an important role in predicting potential health issues or elaborating upon historical indicators that contribute to issues.  As technology progresses, there is potential for much of the required narcissistic behavior to be replaced by an autonomous collection of much of this data.  I suppose we'll figure out whether we like that or not, down the road.

Photo by Karen Roe/flickr/CC

Wired recently published an interesting article out using technology to track your health.  The article presents a basic blueprint to tracking the things that may help you figure out why you're gaining weight or losing weight or tired or whatever.  Their article also outlines a number of websites that can assist with keeping track of yourself, health-wise. 

Something I'm in the process of evaluating is HealthTap.  HealthTap is an online service that matches you with physicians in your area, as well as answers to personal health questions.  According to the site, "HealthTap is for people who want instant access to trusted health information from top doctors."  The site provides you with the opportunity to input a vast quantity of information about your health history as well as input daily information. 

While Google Health tanked, the idea was consistent with many of the online or digital oriented health tracking businesses out there.  I would guess that Google will get back into this game further down the road.

What's the benefit of any of these sites, today?  The privilege of being an "early adopter" and digital access to your personal information.  At the NCCMMS, we see these as future assets that, with your permission, we can leverage to verify and validate the performance of analytic and predictive models that   will be used to educate as well as assist with diagnosis and treatment.

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