Every successful innovation makes it easier to do something right. Websites today are a hundred times easier than ten years ago; in other industries if it’s not easy to do the right thing, customers walk away. But too often if it’s hard to do it right, medicine unwittingly blames the victim.
Data can help.
1. What’s my status?
This is as true in health as it is in driving: you can’t prevent a problem that’s hidden in a blind spot. Data about my status helps me know if attention’s needed – my weight, blood pressure or hemoglobin A1C – and helps me stay out of trouble.
Can that help me live longer? You bet. Eric Topol’s The Patient Will See You Now and Joe Kvedar’s The Internet of Healthy Things talk at great length about how patients enabled with information can do things that in the past required doctors. (This won’t put doctors out of work – the population surge guarantees that.)
2. Do I need to act?
Is my status out of range? My memory’s terrible, so I need to look things up constantly. Apps that alert me can help – but it has to be my range, not a generic one. That can vary, and often depends on my other conditions … it has to be data driven, or the guidance will be pitched toward the non-existent average.
3. Can I tell when it’s time to act?
When I first left the hospital during my cancer, I got an amazing schedule grid showing when to take each of my many medications daily, to try to survive. The schedule itself was confusing enough, but then to be told we had to remember the varying times without fail, or things could go wrong… well, how many alarm clocks do you own??
When data like that is liberated from hospital computers and we all have good apps, we will get automatically notified. If we have a computer or device it can beep and pop up our instructions. If we don’t have apps, the phone can ring. (These systems exist today.) Sick people will be relieved of the burden of remembering when it’s time to act.
That makes life easier, which helps us get rest and prevents further worsening. It’s a virtuous cycle.
4. Can I tell whether I’m doing it right?
If I have any say in it, those pop-up notifications will show pictures of what I’m supposed to take now. (If you’ve ever managed an elder’s pillbox you know exactly what I mean.) And I’ll be able to click on a pill image, if I forget, to remember what it’s for and which doc prescribed it.
Why not? The data exists, and it can help me do the right thing: data can help solve the “compliance” problem.
5. Am I sticking to the routine? Is it easy to know?
We’re talking about staying healthy, too, not just treating the sick. Fitness wristbands? I was skeptical, secretly thought they were okay for “those people,” those runner types. At first, like many, I thought they were for show: “Look how athletic I am!” Then I got diagnosed with pre-diabetes, and suddenly I was motivated.
When I got into the Diabetes Prevention Program (DPP) they told me whatever I’m doing for activity, however little it might be, just do more of it. And I’m here to testify: step counters make it easy (much easier) to do the right thing! The data may be inconsistent from model to model, not as precise as a medical device. But it’s enough to help me change my behavior, with a flick of the wrist: if I glance at it and see my step count’s way low, I now remember to go out and do something.
It’s not just activity. To help with diet (which the DPP is gentle about, not rigid), I used a food counter app that scans the bar code of whatever I’m eating. Yeah, my phone connects to data about food products, and it’s helped me lose weight. Forty pounds.
6. Is my care team on the same page? Does everyone have my status right?
In Let Patients Help: A Patient Engagement Handbook I note that nobody can perform to the top of their potential if they don’t have the information. As the Future Health Index report shows, too often care isn’t coordinated: patients have to repeat the same information. Not only does this waste scarce time during the visit, it risks forgetting something important.
The solution, of course, is data.
Please remember that we’re talking about real people here – people who will, surely one day, include your mother or child. Disaster nearly struck my family: as I wrote in Power to the People on the Innovation Matters blog, my own mother was rescued a few years ago when the data about her thyroid condition was wrong in the computer. (It was not sent electronically from the hospital to rehab – they copied it by hand. Copied wrong.)
Can correct data help you live longer? You bet it can. That’s my mom we’re talking about. I do not want a premature funeral for that woman. This matters.