The convergence of mobile devices, wearable health monitors, social media and advanced analytics is starting to shift healthcare consumers away from Google and other Internet search engines toward automated, more personalized methods of finding relevant health information, according to a newly published report.
"Today, according to the Pew Internet and American Life Project, most people begin searching for health content via a search engine like Google. Tomorrow, health information may be delivered to most passively, sometimes even before they become aware it is needed," reads the report, from New York-based digital health consulting firm Enspektos.
These "just-in-time health information systems," as Enspektos calls them, will produce highly customized content, delivered passively or only as necessary, such as when a biometric sensor or analytics engine picks up subtle changes that may indicate an emerging health issue. "In addition to representing a radical shift in digital health content consumption patterns, just-in-time health information systems could greatly improve the reach and impact of content designed to educate and persuade," the report says.
They already are starting to make a difference. As the report notes, Target has ways, through data mining of shopping habits, of identifying customers likely to be pregnant. In fact, as the New York Times reported in 2012, a Minnesota father learned from a Target store mailing that his teenage daughter was pregnant.
"A lot of this personalized, just-in-time world is being delivered by marketers," Enspektos Founder and President Fard Johnmar tells MobiHealthNews.
The Target example is controversial for sure, but a small number of "empowered" patients are warming to the idea of data-driven health monitoring.
Enspektos interviewed 398 "active" consumers of digital health, which Enspektos defined as those using the Web and social media to find health content for themselves or others, and later tracked participants' social media and Web usage with a proprietary software platform. Of this group, 30 percent said it was "very important" for them to be able to receive personalized health information; women were more likely than men to give this answer.
Many of these people have chronic ailments, according to Johnmar, and disease management represents a real opportunity for those offering just-in-time healthcare information and services. Other groups with more interest in just-in-time health information systems included parents and participants in the "quantified self" movement. Public health surveillance also could find this technology helpful, the report says.
In addition to tracking early adopters of various forms of digital health, Enspektos has been following technology vendors, and included interviews with digital health management vendor Healthrageous, would-be medical tricorder developer Scanadu, wellness content provider Medivizor and marketing firm Rosetta in the report.
"The thing that really jumped out was just how mature some of these companies are," Johnmar admits.
The report does more than just cheerlead for digital health, however, questioning whether advocates have thought enough about data security, privacy, stewardship and portability. "We haven't as a health industry really grappled with some of these issues," Johnmar says.
For more, see the executive summary, contained in this Enspektos slide presentation.