ROCHESTER., MINN. — Would you let a doctor have access to data about the frequency of your teenager's text messages and phone calls if it allowed him to potentially predict negative health events? It's a fascinating question, and just one of the many futurist health care scenarios discussed during the first full day of the Mayo Clinic's 2011 Transform Symposium, an annual event that brings together innovators, design gurus and "rabble rousers" alike from the world of health care and beyond.
I was still a little groggy from an early morning flight when I happened into a session about the Chronic Collaborative Care Network, or 3CN, a consortium devoted to "harnessing the inherent motivation and collective intelligence of patients, clinicians and scientists to design, prototype, optimize and evaluate a new system for chronic care." But my bleariness vanished when I learned that 3CN is currently designing a prototype that would allow clinicians to track patient data from their mobile devices, including their GPS locations and data about the frequency of their phone calls and texts.
Michael Seid, a co-principal investigator with 3CN and director of health outcomes and quality of care research with the Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center, said 3CN wants to use the device, which would be attached to a smart phone, to help patients with chronic conditions monitor their conditions in real time, increasing communication with their clinicians and helping avoid health crises. Citing the example of teenagers with Crohn's Disease as an example — which is one of the conditions 3CN is investigating — Seid argued that data about teens' social media habits could shed real light on their day-to-day ups and downs with Crohn's.
"We're trying to change the idea of what it means to be a patient," Seid said.
Regardless of what one thinks of the Orwellian aspects of such an scenario, the discussion was simply a piece of the broader conversation I heard repeatedly Monday — namely, that health care providers are only scratching the surface of using current technology to connect with patients, and are facing both economic and health-driven imperatives to drive real patient engagement in an increasingly digital world.
And while monitoring the frequency of text messages to tease out potential lifestyle patterns of interest to doctors may sound far-fetched, Seid's co-panelist, John Wilbanks, vice president of science for Creative Commons, took the idea a step further, postulating that clinicians and other researchers might someday be able to deduce from Facebook photos if a person is at risk of alcohol abuse.
"There's data in everything and we leave it on the ground," Wilbanks said. "Currently, only advertisers take advantage of it."
Haydn Bush is senior online editor at Hospitals & Health Networks. Follow H&HN's tweets at www.twitter.com/hhnmag.