The Journal of mHealth Vol 2 Issue 4 (August) - Page 9
Learning from Digital Health Data
Learning from Digital
By Keith Nurcombe
Keith Nurcombe has worked in healthcare for over twenty years spending the last few years working with
businesses in the health and technology space, most recently building O2 Health where he was Managing
Director until the end of 2012, since then he has been providing consultancy services to businesses.
These days we are collecting levels of
health data that eclipse what we have collected in the past. Traditionally, we collected large amounts of patient specific
data including conditions, basic personal
information as well as centrally controlled data points such as LTC management and public health data.
More recently as technology has leapt
forward, especially in the wearable’s
market, the amount of data that we and
our health practitioners can collect has
We now have data that gives us information about conditions we may have, such
as blood pressure and our sugar levels as
a diabetic. To that we have added information about how much exercise we are
doing, how well we are sleeping, what we
are eating and even these days where we
are and what we are doing.
The connotations of this are almost
endless but it does start to produce some
really interesting debates about what we
can record and what we can really learn
from the data.
As more and more services become digital
and start to engage patients in their healthcare, for me, the debate is now around what
we start to uncover about populations and
their health that we currently don’t know.
So let’s look at some of what we might
be able to tell from this data; information
that we could have used in the past had
we collected it.
As an example, let’s start to understand
what impact the diabetic patient’s diet
has on their condition. We know about
their diabetes. The patient knows what
they should be eating. But perhaps now
we can use technology to help the patient
make choices and then record those
choices, so that we can see the difference
it makes in their condition.
Previously, this would have meant a healthcare professional sitting the patient down,
hearing what they have done and commenting on what they might do next. Now
we have access to datasets that show what
the patient ate, where they ate it and when
they ate - simply from a smart phone.
Seems easy! But the data becomes really
powerful if both the patient and healthcare
professional have access to it. It allows the
conversation to become discussion based,
factual and meaningful for both parties.
We know that GPs here in the UK are
over-worked and dealing with increasing
demand from patients, which they are
struggling to meet. In the past we might
have known how many people called their
surgery but that was the extent of the data
in terms of unmet need along with large
numbers of patients going straight to other
services like Accident and Emergency.
Imagine now a digital front end that the
patient engages with for booking appointments, video consultations with healthcare
professionals, accessing self-care. Now at
each step of that, we can know what data
the patient consumed, how many patients
have accessed the service, when, at what
time and on what day. This allows the GP
surgery to deliver the right services at the
right time, for them and for the patient, in
a format that suits both.
What is also key here is that patients
want to be able to access their healthcare
services digitally like they do their banking or their online shopping not at the
choosing of the healthcare professional.
For me, we need to move past some of
the patient identifiable information and
personal health record issues and really
see what the simple data that we can collect can do for the patient, the healthcare
professional and also for the system and
ultimately the payer.
Let’s keep a perspective on what we
really want to achieve! n
The Journal of mHealth