A recent New York Times article made an interesting conclusion about the value of fitness tracker data:
Ultimately, it is those aggregate numbers that offer the most exciting possibilities: The collective data stream from our devices amounts to by far the largest and most comprehensive observational health trial ever conducted. We have the data; now we just need to figure out what it means.
As a preface to this discussion, it’s worth letting you take a minute to read my article about the clinical relevance of FitBit data (or lack thereof). For those who don’t click over, I argue that doctors don’t care about FitBit (and other Fitness Tracker) data because it’s not clinically relevant. However, new sensors are on their way that will be clinically relevant.
While I fundamentally believe that current FitBit data isn’t that interesting to the individual, it’s worth considering if the aggregate FitBit data is going to provide some clinical and health insights. My reaction is that the aggregate FitBit data is likely to provide a much larger benefit than the individual data. Although, that’s not saying too much since I just said that I didn’t think it was that clinically relevant for an individual.
I do think the aggregate data will tell an interesting story about the population as a whole. If we get enough data (and this will likely require all fitness tracking companies to work together), then we could look at some interesting trends that happen across various regions and shifts in activity over time.
One of the big complaints about value based reimbursement efforts is that there’s no baseline that will allow a doctor to say that their patient population is sicker than another doctor’s population. However, under this new model, we’re planning to reimburse them based on how well they keep the population healthy. We can all see how this isn’t fair and could lead to doctors only working with the most healthy patients.
Could a baseline of personal health tracking data (yes, it will likely need to be more than just step trackers) allow us to understand in a really detailed way the health or sickness of a physician’s patient population?
Yes, this all gets quite messy very quickly. However, it also gets quite exciting. Could enough data help us understand what doctors have said for years, “My patients are more sick!”? I think it could. It won’t be perfect, but it will be better than what we have today.
Of course, the solutions to actually improving the health of patients is a whole other challenge. However, understanding the health of a population as compared to other populations and how their health changes over time is going to be very valuable to the future of healthcare as we know it.