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The Great Health Data Hoax...What about Medical Collaboration?

Posted by Lawrence Kerr on Thu, Mar 13, 2014 @ 08:34 AM


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Walk into any pharmacy these days and you can measure your blood pressure. At some kiosks you can even measure things like BMI, vision, and your likelihood of being a bone marrow donor.

It's exciting to sit down for a few minutes, at low or no cost, and feel like you're tapping into data that -- until a few years ago -- was available only through a long-awaited doctor's appointment.

But once I sit down and measure my blood pressure, what value does that reading have? If my blood pressure is obviously so high or so low that it registers as "sick", then I would need a very specific kind of intervention. That intervention would be effectively cued by the blood pressure reading itself -- with no other conversation, context, or background needed. However, when I sit down at the kiosk to measure my blood pressure as a reasonably healthy person, and my reading is "within the range of normal," then what? Then the data itself -- the reading -- is not worth much without a lot of context about my age, other symptoms, and habits. So it appears that the blood pressure reading is very helpful for indicating the presence of acute disease, but may not be so helpful for cultivating a greater state of overall health.

Is health data only useful in cases of true illness? Or can health data be used in the service of greater health?

The overall movement towards e-monitoring, health data, and telehealth has created unreasonable expectations for health data. The data can be crucial for many conditions of illness. There is huge promise in the technologies and innovation in this area. But in some contexts, in which optimal health is the goal -- like sports medicine, for instance -- the data itself becomes almost useless. Most people, on most indicators, are within the range of normal. Without a conversation among multiple healthcare providers around what that data means, it literally is meaningless, and may even be damaging.

So what is important in situations where e-monitoring or health data can't help us to the degree we'd wish? Collaboration and context. For the pro athlete that has just had an injury, we don't need data, we need a sophisticated, time-sensitive collaboration among the healthcare providers that can best manage that injury within the context of the pro athlete's priorities and demands. A strained ankle seen in the training room needs to be addressed specifically as a part of the body, of a unique individual. Similarly, for a 38-year-old woman who is having trouble conceiving, a BMI reading is not going to do much for her. But a collaboration among her fertility specialist, nutritionist, midwife, and endocrinologist may do much more for her.

What do you think? Has health data ever seemed like more of a hoax than a help in your practice as a healthcare provider? Or does the e-health data and monitoring movement seem like it's making strides across the board? Join the conversation in the comments below.

And for collaboration strategies and stories from healthcare and beyond, check out our free quick guide to collaboration:


ClickCare Quick Guide to Medical Collaboration



Tags: medical collaboration, sports medicine

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