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Health Screening in the Era of Big Data - Scanadu Scout


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Alan Greene, MD, FAAPAugust 5, 2013

“Hello, am I speaking with Alan Greene? We have a few credit card charges we’d like to confirm…”

Every now and then I get a call from my credit card company because a charge doesn’t fit my regular pattern. Sometimes my location, the item I’m purchasing, or the merchant I’m using is far enough out of my routine that the card company’s algorithms indicate it is worth spending the time and money to confirm the purchase is okay, rather than just waiting until the next regularly scheduled statement arrives.

Most of the time these charges turn out to be normal, but every now and then they catch important problems. And catch them early.

Big data allow proactive protection – for me and for those with a financial stake.

Similarly, health screenings allow us to detect medical problems early. But current screening recommendations call for analyzing a very small number of screening tests performed quite infrequently. You can download an app or use a web tool to find what the US Preventive Services Task Force recommends for you.

For many adults, there is a full year between recommended screenings – and in some cases two years, five years, or even more. But health problems don’t start on an annual schedule.

Thankfully, we’re living in a time where mobile sensors, Bluetooth devices, and smartphone-enabled technologies are allowing us to collect valuable information about our bodies in real time. Analytics are making it possible to alert us when something is far enough outside of our own normal pattern that it’s worth considering.

Rather than checking blood pressure every two years, and at some point learning that it has already gotten too high (which then needs to be confirmed on two more visits to be sure it wasn’t an anomaly), it can be quick and easy to map your own pattern and know when it is changing while it is still in the normal range, but moving in the wrong direction.

We stand at the verge of amazing insights into our bodies. In ways that were never practical in the past, our own body’s big data, analyzed quietly in the background, can help us learn when our health is improving – or not - at just the right moment… long before the next time we actually make it in for a check-up.

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