Monthly Archives: January 2015

Various wearables available on the market today

The Next Battleground of the Data Revolution – Your Doctor’s Office

Wearables are gaining such explosive traction in the consumer space these days, you’d be blind (and deaf)… or perhaps just live somewhere remote to not know about them. Fitbit, Jawbone, Vivofit, Basis, you name it. There are dozens upon dozens on the market today, and that number isn’t going down any time soon. Apple is going to release their Watch soon, and many other great new ideas are on the immediate horizon. I’m looking forward to my impending pair of smart socks by Sensoria quite soon, in fact.

Various wearables available on the market today

Various wearables available on the market today

Trackers, or “wearables” (short for wearable technology) are popular because they give consumers a level of control over their lives that they never had previously. “If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it”, the old management axiom goes. It’s true. If I didn’t know how active or inactive I was on a given day, how could I improve my fitness? If I don’t know what my resting heart rate is, how can I tell if I’m working out hard enough or not? Or too hard? If I wake up feeling crappy, if I don’t know how much I was tossing and turning, how can I tell why I had a bad sleep? Short answer; you can’t. And for most of history up to this point, you had to guess. You had to use a manual pedometer to count steps. You had learn how to measure your heart rate by putting fingers on your neck and watching a stopwatch. You had to go to the doctor’s office to have your blood pressure read or to have a sleep study conducted.

This is another shift in empowerment of the consumer. Think back to how we used to have to buy a car in the 1980’s or early 1990’s. All of the power resided with the car dealers, because they had control over all of the information. We had no idea what the blue book prices were, no access to vehicle history, and very little ability to comparison shop. When Kelly Blue Book went online for free, Carfax was born, and online comparison tools rose, the power shifted to the consumer. Today, car dealers make very little on each individual car sale, and instead have to try and go for volume to make money. This is exactly what is happening with health and fitness data today.

Which brings me to my point. I heard a story on NPR the other day.  “Sure You Can Track Your Health Data, but Can Your Doctor Use It?” Doctors are the new car dealers. This new empowerment of consumers armed with gobs of data are shifting the power base in health care. And like any time in history when you try to change a power base, there is backlash from those who stand to lose power. It is just human nature. Doctors are on the line now to have to shift the way they do their work, and many of them don’t like it, because their consumers are becoming more educated. Sure we are all warned about the hazards of self-diagnosis, and to consult your doctor. But on the contrary, as doctors are becoming harder and harder to access due to shortages and the “15 minute rule”, where they try to see as many patients in a day as possible, coming to the exam room armed with data to show what is important and what is not can be a real game-changer.

Dr. Paul Abramson who was interviewed in the NPR story says: “I get information from watching people’s body language, tics and tone of voice,” he says. “Subtleties you just can’t get from a Fitbit or some kind of health app.” The story also says that Dr. Abramson isn’t a technophobe, and also an engineer. What he isn’t is a data person. Or even a data scientist. And, for me, there’s the rub. Doctors are going to have to start becoming “data people”, and fast. If not, their jobs are going to evaporate and they will be replaced by those who can be. Watching people’s body language and tone of voice is fine, but a terabyte of empirical data will trump that any day. Data will tell exactly what is going on in a person’s body. Large, self-collected data sets will provide a much clearer picture of a person’s health than a 15 minute office visit can tell. Data will be more complete than a 5 or 10 minute test can tell. And, most importantly, data will allow us to start making accurate forecasts and predictions on our health, and help us avoid potential problems before they become problems.

Imagine if a person was wearing a small wrist band that does constant heart rate monitoring. Based on months of 24/7 monitoring data, imagine if an app could predict if that person was becoming at risk for having a heart attack? Or at risk for a having a stroke based on blood pressure data? This is all possible when we start having access to large, rich data sets of consumer health information. And this is only the beginning.

The problem is going to be what the problem in healthcare IT has always been. There are no overall standards or governance on how health data is stored, and each hospital, doctor’s office, and insurance company have different ways of doing it. And each is very entrenched in their own process and very reluctant to change. I worked in healthcare IT for several years (my wife has for over 25 years), and I can say from experience that it is like the Wild West. But we’re going to have to find ways to break down those walls and insist that our health care includes some expert analysis of our consumer-collected health data. We’d be silly not to.

As more and more consumers are tracking their health data, the pressure will become more intense on doctors to start incorporating it into their care plans for patients. Doctors like Dr. Abramson won’t be able to just shrug and not know what to do with it. In a few more years, vastly more patients will be coming to the exam room armed with data. Insurance companies are already starting with the pressure, too. Many plans are starting to offer discounts to members who wear a tracker and log a certain number of steps per year. Healthier people are cheaper to cover. Why not use that data in the exam room, too?

What do you think about the future or wearables and health care?

Would you use a different doctor if you knew that your data would be evaluated?

What part of this is scary to you?

New Year, New Perspective, New Peace

2014 was an amazing year for me as an athlete. If you would have told me 4 years ago that I’d be running marathons and writing about it, I would have laughed at you, and then pointed my finger at you and laughed some more. But here I am.

I was always the geek in high school. More worried about getting good grades, copy editing the school newspaper and getting to drama guild rehearsal on time than any type of sports. It wasn’t until later in life that I found my athletic competitive side. I compete with myself the worst. 2014 is evidence. If I go back just a bit to 2013, the year I ran my first half marathon, I can find my starting point. I ran my first 13.1 in 2 hours 16 minutes. Not bad for a newbie. I signed up for the Rock-n-Roll Half in Las Vegas later that year, with a kinda-sorta goal of finishing under 2 hours. Not impossible, but I didn’t truly understand the training needed to get there. I didn’t hit my goal. I finished in 2 hours 12 minutes. I was mad. Pissed off, ticked, you name it. Angry mad at myself. This is where I let my competitive side take over. I wanted that sub-2 hour half. Bad. I signed up for an April half marathon, and started training my ass off over Christmas week. I blew my goal away by finishing in 1 hour 55 minutes, setting a new Personal Record by 17 minutes. That was huge. I felt great! In my euphoria, I dove right into my next challenge (competitive side really burning high now) and signed up for my first marathon.

I set myself an aggressive goal to finish my first marathon in 4 hours. I figured if I could do a half in 1:55, that a 4 hour marathon was possible. I set my training plan and started training my ass off again. It was a hot and humid summer to train over. But I did it. Every day I got up and reminded myself that I had committed to running this marathon, both mentally, and by paying the entry fee. I was going to go make a good showing of it.

And this is where I fell down. Training for a marathon is no joke. I was running 5 days a week, and at peak, 50 miles a week. This takes a LOT of time. And effort. Add on top of that the fact that I’m a busy career man, with a challenging job during the day, and putting the finishing touches on raising a 17-year old girl to be a responsible adult, and an attentive husband to my stellar wife. That is a LOT to expect of anyone. But I did it. And what I found at the end was ugly.

I got to the point where I was dreading the run. Not another run on another hot day. I was so mentally exhausted that I kept questioning why I was doing this at all. Who was I trying to prove something to? I was physically exhausted most of the time as well. My training was aggressive to try and get me into shape to achieve my aggressive goal. But my 42-year-old body, while in pretty good shape, was having a hard time rising to the occasion. I realized I hated this. Hated it bad. I didn’t want to run anymore. It was all just too much. But my sense of duty that I committed to this race would not let me stop. So I didn’t.

I ran my marathon. I felt pretty good on race day, and mostly throughout the race. I was not in the right mental place to finish strong. I was mentally tired, and part of me just wanted to get it over with so I could get on with my life. My pace really suffered in the final 10K, as most first timers do, and I finished in 4 hours 33 minutes. Which, in retrospect, is a stellar time for a first-time marathoner in his 40’s. I finished on my own power. I should be more proud of the achievement. But whenever I think about it, all I can think about is how badly I felt at the end of all of that training.

I took most of the month of November off from running. I needed the break. Yeah I packed on a few pounds after being so active and then not. But it’s okay. I sort of started back running a little bit in December, but not much.

At the end of December, I ran one of my favorite runs, the Kris Kringle 5 miler. I hadn’t been out for a while and was certainly not in peak shape, but I went out and just ran. And I loved it. There was no pressure for a finish time or a PR. No mental grief over some expectation of performance. I just ran. And that’s when it hit me. This is how my running should be. It should be joyous that I have the strength to run, that I am able to run. I do so much love to run. Anything that detracts me from that feeling of joy in motion is bad, and I need to stay away from it.

So my goals for 2015 are to simply let go of any expectation of performance and just enjoy the crap out of my running. I’m already signed up for 7 5K’s, 1 10K, and 2 half marathons before the end of July. I don’t care how I finish. I’m just going to go and run them. And enjoy the crap out of each one. Because I can run, and I love to run. I’m going to focus more on cross training, and try to exercise something every day, because a stronger me will naturally become a faster, fitter me without having to pressure myself into some artificial goal. It will be what it is, and I’m going to be happy with it. So far, so good. I’ve been working out at something nearly every day, and am still feeling the love.

What are your goals for 2015? Have you ever felt this way about your training? How do you find “the happy” in each day’s run?