Tonight marked the end of the first day of the snazziest conference I have ever been to – Stanford’s Medicine X 2012. Held at Stanford School of Medicine’s Li Ka Shing Center, Medicine X is all about emerging technologies and their influence on medicine. Today’s focus centered on self-tracking and the quantified self. That is, patients who use different technologies to track their health activities over time to help make better health decisions. Full disclosure: I was awarded a student access scholarship by the very generous Stanford Medicine X leadership that made my attendance possible. I am very much grateful for their support.
There were a number of themes that emerged from speakers’ presentations and various panel discussions. Though self-tracking using high tech tools is in its relative infancy, there is already a panoply of issues that need to be dealt with, making the field ripe for innovators and entrepreneurs. You can read about those from better authors with better experiences.
A few themes that emerged were:
1) The traditional medical world’s unfamiliarity with self-tracking patients, how to handle their data, and engage them effectively.
- Many of the self-tracking patients expressed their respective physicians’ apathetic receptions to self-tracking data.
- The problem may reside in how physicians are trained during medical school. Their mindset may be shaped to be more pedagogical, rather than collaborative, resulting in “one-way” relationships with patients.
- If properly implemented, self-tracking data can provide the history for the patient, so clinical encounters can focus on what they were originally intended for – to treat, not to recite.
2) Opportunities for innovative self-tracking experimentation.
- Though great examples of useful self-tracking tools exist, including the iBGStar glucose meter and Beam toothbrush, there is still much work to be done.
- As the line between wellness products and medical products blur, the importance of maintaining a “consumer-facing” user experience is key.
- As self-tracking becomes more popular, the importance of consumers’ education in scientifically examining their data stream(s) surfaces; we don’t want patients acting on misdiagnoses based on ill-informed conclusions.
3) The relevancy of self-tracking data to the individual as well as society.
- The data streams generated by self-tracking patients will be unwieldy in their number, dimensionality, and continuity.
- Problems arise in effectively examining gigantic data sets from populations of self-trackers for widely-implementable solutions, while maintaining context and privacy for the individual patient.
- Dr. Bryan Vartabedian tweeted, and Ernesto Ramirez later reiterated, that the issue isn’t so much as big data as it is the relevancy of data; how do we make all these data sets actionable for the individual?
Self-tracking seems like a burgeoning field. It will be interesting to see how it progresses in the coming years. Personally, I have an interest in seeing how this self-tracking data can be applied to developing countries. India, for example, has the second largest cell phone user base in the world. How can self-tracking, or mobile health technologies, empower them to tackle India’s double burden of disease? During these presentations we heard a lot about how social networks sometimes played encouraging roles in helping self-tracking patients improve their outcomes. Rural India is entirely comprised of smaller social networks (i.e. villages, small towns, etc.). Could the same encouragement from social networks apply to a developing country as well?
I’m pretty excited to see what Day 2 of Stanford Medicine X holds. Hopefully I’ll dispatch a post tomorrow as well. Good night.