Want my digital health data? Convince me.

Author: Mona Sobhani, PhD

On the spectrum of personal data privacy, you’ll find me nestled far closer to the side of “none of my data is anyone’s damned business”.  Maybe I’ve been radicalized, having read one too many articles on the nefarious uses of personal data by governments and corporations.  Indeed, one look at my Netflix list would reveal my paranoid leanings.  Maybe I’m too skeptical, but news stories like the recent Facebook-Cambridge Analytica scandal don’t do much to relieve my concerns. 

So when I think about the topic of digital health, which aims to use emerging digital technologies and advanced analytic methods to forge progress on healthcare, I can’t help but react defensively. I find myself wondering why it’s not enough that you have my location, social, and purchasing personal information.  Now you want my health information, too?

But digital health needs our data and I was reminded why after attending a meeting last week.  The ultimate promise of digital health, as I see it, is to help solve personalized health.  What I mean by solving personalized health is that we want to move from a “sick care” system to a “health care” system where health problems are identified and treated early, or even prevented, on a personalized basis. The “X” factor needed to do that with unprecedented and exceptional efficiency is to have a lot of data from humans in various states of health on which to train algorithms.  Without that, digital health solutions may make healthcare more efficient by, say, improving communication between stakeholders and making it easier to give/get a prescription – but it won’t solve health.

However, that idea does not make it any safer to provide personal data.  The risks of cyber breach are still very real, and the average patient may not fully understand what those risks are.  To help patients make more informed decisions, it should be the responsibility of digital health solution providers to provide examples of risks, as well as explanations of how they intend to mitigate risks.

Realistically, it may take a long time to get to the point where the combination of the digital health wearable sensors and apps I’m using will be able to detect things like reduced immune functioning.  Take genomics as an example.  We have decoded the human genome, but we are not close to having every gene-to-gene-environment interaction mapped out, because research and development take time. This should be communicated to patients so they do not feel duped.

It should be the responsibility of digital health stakeholders to convince me to provide my data by using their product.  They can do that by properly communicating the issue of why they need my data, what are the possible harmful outcomes, and why it may take a while to see results. This way,  every patient will not feel as though digital health is another ruse for private companies to acquire my personal data for their personal profit.  And digital health can march forward to its goal of solving health.


The Future of Digital Health: Considering the Non-Tech Savvy Consumer

Technology has played a significant role in my professional, academic and personal life. When I think about the target market of every day digital health tools, it has dawned on me that there lies a challenge of integrating these tools successfully into our patient’s daily lives. But, that challenge doesn’t lie with a potential consumer like myself. As a computer scientist, I am more tech-savvy than the average millennial and I normally run towards the new gadget, not away from it.

A person without a chronic health condition who is not extremely-health conscious or knowledgeable about their health is less likely to have the immediate trust in a device or see the necessity to incorporate one in their daily routine. With this person there is bound to be friction when it comes to using and benefiting from digital health tools.

With that, I explore the inevitable question, whose job is it to convince the patients that digital health tools are worth using?

I believe it is the job of the digital health tool and its marketers to show and educate people what benefit they serve. For example with voice assistants in-home or embedded in cars or mHealth applications, a daily prompt is absolutely necessary. This looks like a simple, “How are you feeling today?” at a chosen time of day with eventual unprompted feedback on mood patterns. The gist is that people may need to be poked and reminded to use the digital health tol until they can see for themselves how these tools can help.

Normal people are not accustomed to collecting their own data and using it to make decisions on their health daily. So, they are going to have to be trained or guided. I believe there are three big hurdles to transitioning into a world where everybody is constantly remote monitoring their health and using digital health to the fullest extent.

The first hurdle is trust and security--consumers will not want to use any digital health tool if they do not feel the people marketing the tool are credible or that they have their security as a priority. Consumers will have to be convinced that what they are using will actually help them and is worth the effort of using.

The second is going to be education--we use words so often that mean absolutely nothing to the consumer (e.g. digital, artificial intelligence). These are complex terms are not only a turn off but they put consumers on a different page where they don’t necessarily see automatically that this tool could apply to them. This also entails safeguarding patients against inaccurate information.

The third is going to be cost and accessibility--if consumers cannot afford the device and it’s not covered by insurance or seemly backed by the healthcare system, they will not engage.

It’s no surprise that us in the tech and medical community live in a bubble. We are in the conversation on a daily basis and we understand the gaps of quality healthcare in our lives and how digital health fills that space. But for those who don’t easily see those gaps, we need to show them and help them understand why they matter and how “digital” can be their friend.


Finding the Holy Grail in Sticking to New Year’s Health Goals (hint: it may be linked to digital health tools, relationships and your age)

Saxon Apple watch.png

 After the weeks of partying, drinking, eating and other revelry during the holiday season, it makes sense that most of us, who do not share Keith Richard’s constitution, choose to abandon these non-sustainable behaviors with healthier ones in the New Year. The problem is anywhere between 46-88 percent of us abandon our good intentions within six months. According to a recent U.K. research study, the most common reasons for failing at New Year’s health resolutions were setting unrealistic goals (35 percent), not keeping track of progress (33 percent) and forgetting to do the activity (23 percent).

This is great news for the growing wearables market which can solve the last two challenges. According to IDC, more than 125 million wearables shipped this year – a 20 percent increase over last year – and overall the market forecast is almost double growth to 240 million units by 2021. However IDC also reported the type of wearable that will fuel this growth is evolving from basic wearables that just track fitness such as steps walked or calories burned (think FitBit or Xiaomi) to smart wearables with third party apps  creating a multi-purpose device (such as Apple Watch 3’s voice, data and music streaming capability).

The Eyes Have It

The smart wearable is the direction taken by one of our partners at the USC Center for Body Computing (CBC), VSP Global’s innovation lab, The Shop. VSP’s development of the fashion meets tech meets health LevelTM smart glasses, which have a biometric sensor embedded in the eyeglasses, not only provides a health tracking form factor that prescription eyeglass users wear every day without thinking about it, but I give VSP kudos because they took the time to engage with us in a research study to understand how to get wearable users invested in their health for the long-term.

What our study revealed is Level users maintained or increased their activity by 20-25 percent based mostly on relationships. For instance, the digital coaching app that comes with Level provided expert guidance on continued activity, support and encouragement from the user’s social networks kept them motivated and a charitable giving component brought users a “do good for others” element to their health goals. In other words, relationships can make you healthier. It’s not just about personal goals, it’s about engaging with others, getting needed support and giving back.

Since Juniper Research has identified smart glasses as the highest growth sector of the consumer wearables segment over the next five years, we’re excited for the launch of Level later this year.

Age and Life Satisfaction Make a Difference

One of the other success factors from our study that resonated with me personally was that older age participants—63 percent were over age 40—along with higher life satisfaction scores also predicted higher activity levels.

Since I founded the USC Center for Body Computing 12 years ago I have watched the growth and impact of digital health tools transform medicine and health care and transform my personal behavior.

I feel like it’s my responsibility to find the most compelling use cases for digital and wearable technology, so in the fall, as we were planning to use Apple watches in a study with U.S. Marines, I wanted to get some more ideas about how to use the watch in the water to help train so I kicked started   my New Year’s Resolution for better health.

Using my Apple Watch, I resolved to swim 4-6 miles a week and to measure, increase and improve my performance over time. I wanted to test how tracking my swims in detail (split-times and strokes), with this technology could be used to motivate and keep the workouts fresh.

I’ve always been a swimmer, but over the years, my trips to the pool can feel like my trips to the aqua prison. Other than better flexibility and fitness, what I gain from swimming is relaxation and better emotional resilience throughout the day. However, like most workouts, swimming can feel repetitive and boring.

Tracking with the watch works. I’ve gotten a ton of ideas about how to program and use the watch to provide me with insights and I’ve also become addicted to the data it gives me. It has become really easy and natural for me to set new goals and connect  the dots from my workout data to my overall health,  especially with the comparative summary  data the watch gives for workouts from one day or week to the next.  My workouts in the pool now yield dynamic and deeply personalized data, that informs the next workout and keeps me interested and motivated.  And, I get encouragement from my team at USC CBC where we all have watches and share our workouts. I like competing with the younger pipsqueaks!

So whether I am seeing my cardiology patients, or working with our USC CBC partners on digital health solutions, my swimming is not about generic  health goals but more about personalized data I can be creative with and that enable me to make  better health decisions in the 23 hours and 20 minutes a day I am not swimming.   

Women and Health Resolutions

As long as I’m blogging, I’ll make another point about exercise that I think is really relevant to the mental and physical health of women. It is my belief that most American women, due to lifelong cultural conditioning, have an adjustment disorder to their weight (regardless of their actual weight) and that we often equate weight or the desire for weight reduction, with exercise.

Weight and exercise need to be thought about very differently, to allow women to gain the confidence to be more comfortable with both. Weight is pretty much exclusively related to food intake. Exercise is about making an investment into one’s mental and physical health.  Women, who already have a hard time being comfortable and confident about their weight,  typically choose to  focus on  losing  weight as a New Year’s Resolution rather exercise as a goal in itself.  The former only feeds an insecurity and the latter may create a path toward health and strength that can hopefully build more confidence around how a woman feels about her weight.  

But the Holy Grail of health and happiness, informed with personalized and dynamic data is what I believe digital health tools, such as smart wearables, will give to all of us. For women, the ability to separate weight concerns from health goals, the ability to think about how healthy habits over time build confidence and health longevity and adding more quality years – healthspan – to our lives. If we can achieve this then we can achieve better focus and performance whether we are a marine in training or a woman trying to get healthier.

Here’s to a healthy and happy new year!

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Creating Accessible Solutions in Healthcare

I recently participated in an accessibility event with the University of Southern California (USC) Center for Body Computing and the Special Hope Foundation, which promotes the establishment of comprehensive healthcare for adults with developmental disabilities.

The Center for Body Computing has a rich history of creating technology that helps people with disabilities. Their goal was to bring together a diverse set of people and organizations to discuss possible projects that would influence the healthcare industry to create accessible, digital solutions.

I was invited to participate and contribute my expertise about accessible digital product design. IBM has made accessibility an integral function of its IBM Design Thinking and IBM Design Language,and has embedded accessibility into its training sessions for new designers. By placing accessibility at the forefront of the design and development process, IBM is delivering better user experiences for people with disabilities and the growing aging population.


Special Hope and USC Center for Body Computing: The Promise of Digital Tools for People with Disabilities

We’d like to share some exciting news

The USC Center for Body Computing and the Special Hope Foundation are joining forces to encourage companies to design digital health tools for people with disabilities.

Please read the details of this collaboration, share with others, and feel free to ask questions.

LOS ANGELES, Oct. 6, 2016 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ — The University of Southern California (USC) Center for Body Computing (CBC), the digital health innovation incubator of the Keck Medicine of USC medical enterprise, announced The Special Hope Foundation has joined its membership to ensure future digital health tools and services meet the needs of those with disabilities.

The Special Hope Foundation, based in Silicon Valley, has been a leading advocate in identifying the void in the American health care system when it comes to people with developmental disabilities, defined as a diverse group of chronic conditions due to mental or physical impairments such as autism, Down Syndrome and cerebral palsy. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, an estimated 48.9 million Americans – almost 1 in 5 citizens....

How Virtual Reality Will Keep Us Healthier

This post by Rachelle Chong was originally posted on Pryme

Virtual reality (VR) mostly makes headlines among gaming enthusiasts big and small.  Gamers love to don a VR helmet and enter a fantasy world where they are transformed into a warrior, goddess, or other character.  One of the most promising uses of virtual reality, however, is how it will transform healthcare in the immediate future for all of us.

I just got back from attending the tenth annual Body Computing Conference at USC Keck School of Medicine, Center for Body Computing.  A number of the standout presentations used virtual reality (VR) applications to improve health care outcomes.

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Fitness Trackers and Beyond: Digital Health's Future

Greetings from the Silicon Beach, Los Angeles! My name is Andrew Keibel. Originally an East Coaster from Hartford, Connecticut, I moved to LA 3 years ago to complete an internal medicine residency at the University of Southern California (but really to surf more).  I’m also the country’s first Digital Health Fellow. This position was created by the USC Center for Body Computing (CBC) under the guidance of digital health guru Dr. Leslie Saxon. 

As a Digital Health Fellow, I will be dedicating a year to studying the current environment of digital health, and specifically how medical technology, virtual and immersive therapy solutions, mobile apps, biosensors, wearables, the internet of things and big data can be utilized to enhance the quality of care and most importantly quality of life of patients. Created in 2007, the CBC has since established its role as leader driving innovation in the digital health world, and over the course of the year I will utilize this blog to document my experience and highlight innovations being developed here.

I’ll start things off with an article from Fortune Magazine entitled: “McDonald’s Recalls Faulty Happy Meal Activity Trackers”. According to Fortune, McDonald’s has formally recalled an activity tracker being offered with Happy Meals after receiving more than 70 reports of burns and skin irritations from people who wore the wristbands. This article highlights an important point: the commoditization of wearables and sensors is increasing the prevalence of digital health technology in our culture and lifestyles. There will always be both a leading and trailing edge of innovation. As more products and developers enter the market there will be failures and setbacks, but commoditization is essential to development and driving the innovation cycle.

Fitness and activity trackers represent an important segment in the digital health space. And although there is still a great deal of exciting innovation happening in this field, including a study happening at CBC utilizing daily eyeglass with integrated wellness tracking technology (How an insurance company is trying to craft eyeware of the future), it is important to think of digital health as more than just the traditional wrist-worn fitness bands. Our active projects extend beyond the wearables with projects including: a virtual care clinic where patients interact with virtual representations of physician specialists instantly on-demand through their mobile phone, immersive experiences utilizing 3D cameras to engage and educate surgical patients, and a mobile application to coordinate care teams and improve management of complicated end-stage heart failure patients. So for now, skip the Happy Meal and follow me as I keep you updated on what’s happening on the leading edge of digital health innovation.

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