Home Mobile Data Tracking as a Model for Health & Social Transformation

Mobile Data Tracking as a Model for Health & Social Transformation

Mobile phones could be used to track peoples’ physical activity and other health factors, using data gathered from existing community groups to track performance against baseline standards for health, rewarding individuals and groups exhibiting healthy patterns, and changing our relationship with food, exercise, medicine, insurance and general health. That’s the bold vision of the future articulated by Dr. Brigitte Piniewski, Portland, Oregon-based Chief Medical Officer of PeaceHealth Laboratories, in a must-read interview on Mobile Health News this weekend.

Piniewski says young people in the United States are experiencing widespread hopelessness about their employment and insurance prospects for the long term. In part as a result, they are developing habits today that will aim them in very bad directions for their long term well-being. A data-driven realignment of our relationship with health, to move us away from crisis-prompted medical reaction and towards a culture of prevention and self-care, could not only help remake our society here in the United States. It could also help provide models that the developing world, where mobile device penetration is high but processed food consumption is low, could use to leapfrog our own experiences with self-destructive individual and collective behavior.

“In the future, people might be cognizant of ‘health experiences’ such as how much activity they need to generate by their 10th, 15th or 20th birthday to marginalize the lifestyle contribution to the disease,” Mobile Health News’s Neil Versel writes in his coverage of the interview. “‘We all have accelerometers and put information into community data commons,’ Piniewski envisions. ‘It allows communities to not go blindly into the future.'”

Many young people today “have very, very low expectations,” Piniewski says. “They will be underemployed and underinsured for the rest of their lives.” Yet they don’t use the healthcare system until they are truly sick, Versel writes. “We have this model that completely misses everything,” says Piniewski.

Critics might argue that a strategy based on mobile data tracking is invasive, authoritarian and wrongheaded when individuals should take (sole, individual) responsibility for their own health. There does seem to be some risks to such an approach, but I’d argue that the status quo is hardly a good scenario, either. If a high-tech, health-nut, tracking-obsessed hell is the pot of boiling water we land in when we jump out of an arguably dystopian present, that would certainly be a problem as well.

We write here all the time about data as a platform, about making new parts of life measurable and thus manageable, and about the big potential offered by mobile devices. Piniewski’s interview is highly recommended for readers interested in those topics.

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