You don’t have to be paranoid to shudder at how much of your personal information is being collected and disseminated these days.

It seems there’s not a single detail about any of us that some nosy parker or other somewhere on the planet hasn’t dug up, tossed into a giant factoid Cuisinart, and processed the heck out until a complex, individualized profile emerges, revealing everything from the nanosecond of our birth, to what we binge-watched on Netflix last weekend, to the ratio of cream to cherry fillings in the box of chocolates we sent Grandma for Valentine’s Day in 2014.

Whatever we do, we leave behind a trail of personal data, a treasure trove for marketers and merchants, political consultants and self-proclaimed opinion makers — and anyone else trying to influence our behavior in one way or another.

Which isn’t to say that using data to influence behavior is nefarious in and of it itself. Take health care, for example. Virtually everything providers are doing to control costs, improve quality and promote wellness depends on strong data about the folks in their communities. Population health requires a sophisticated and detailed understanding of who exactly is vulnerable and why. You can’t reach out to the people who need you most, you can’t adapt strategies to address individuals’ particular circumstances, you can’t keep people healthy and out of the hospital without a whole lot of very specific information about them.

Still in all, data isn’t everything. It certainly isn’t knowledge. Behind all the facts and factoids about a person, there’s a bunch of just plain stuff that isn’t easily quantifiable. There are emotions and tics and nuances and unpredictable shifts of mind and heart that influence one’s health and behavior — and that only reveal themselves through good, old-fashioned human interaction. Successful population health programs combine topnotch data analytics with those one-on-one encounters between individuals that have always been the core of good care. Data is a tool. Knowledge is a people thing.

That’s true here at H&HN, too. We’re also combining the hard facts with the anecdotal to better understand our audience. We collect data to identify who our readers are and what they read. At the same time, we’re constantly talk with you folks in the field to find out what’s top of mind for you, what keeps you up at night, what kind of information we can provide and how we can better provide it to enable you to lead your organizations through the choppy sea that is health care today.

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