Dean’s Corner

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF), in partnership with WIRED magazine, sponsored the Living by Numbers:  Better Data Can Lead to Better Health Conference in New York City October 15-16.  The RWJF sponsored 20 alumni of their fellowship programs to attend the conference.  I was privileged to be an attendee.  As many of you already know, I worked on what is now the High Tech Act while I was a RWJ Health Policy Fellow on the House Ways and Means Committee.  I have long been an early adopter of new technologies and encourage the use of technology in education, practice and research.  The topics covered in this conference indicate that what we think of as science fiction is reality now!  The era of Big Data is here.  The ability to mine large data sets for health related patterns is now possible.  The promise of complexity theory can now be recognized with the computational power of Big Data.

The pace of change in health care is rapidly accelerating.   One of the first speakers put things in perspective:  “I want to take you back in history to the year 2008, when there were no apps.”  Wow!  In only 4 years think of how our world has changed.  Now the catalog of apps is seemingly endless.  That led me to wonder, what will health care education, practice, and research be like 4 years from now, in 2016?  Can we even imagine the reality?

Just a few of the new technologies to consider:

  • The Quantified Self:  Self monitoring systems are becoming more sophisticated and decreasing in costs so that individuals are now collecting and reporting physiological data about themselves.  Organizations are forming for people with similar interests to share data and information (http://quantifiedself.com/), imagine the possibilities for nurses to involve communities in healthy behaviors, or to support groups with chronic disease management.
  • The rapidly expanding science of genomics presents additional intriguing possibilities and challenges.  One can now order one’s own personal genome for around $1000.  The world of personalized medications is upon us.  One speaker talked of making our own personalized pharmaceuticals at our desks with 3D printers!

All of these ideas and topics have serious policy implications.  Some of these implications include:  Who owns the data? Who pays for the data?  Who has access to the data?  How is privacy protected? What is the changing role of the health professional in the era of Big Data?  I look forward to hearing your perspectives on policy implications of emerging technologies.

You can watch the sessions at www.wiredhealthconference.com