Data-driven health care, like many technological advances written about in the tech and business press, is full of promise and potential. But can that promise be realized?

Yet medical practice remains decidedly old school

The world of sophisticated analytics and diagnostics remains a long way from the way most physicians currently operate.

Consider your last visit to the doctor.

Traditionally, we see our doctor when we are already feeling the effects of illness or have experienced some unusual event. We tell the GP our symptoms, and he or she measures our vital signs (pulse, blood pressure, temperature, etc.) and asks some basic questions. If the doctor suspects something needs looking into, we are referred to a specialist and sent for tests. After that, it can take days or even weeks before the results are in and treatment can begin. In many cases, it might already be too late by the time the results are in. Either you have made a full recovery or the issue has worsened.

The long and the short of it is that health care professionals simply lack access to the data they need to act fast. When it comes to potentially fatal events like heart disease and stroke, this can result in tragedy. Given that In the United States, someone has a heart attack every 40 seconds and one in four people die of heart attack, this is an issue for all of us.  

It gets worse

To add insult to injury, most patients lack the medical knowledge to recognize the first signs of illness. Some even choose to ignore them in the hope they will go away. As a result, the medical profession deals almost exclusively with curing disease rather than prevention. Even if patients do go for annual health checks, the subtle yet key first signs of diseases might not be detected because of their intermittent nature.

Data: Empowering doctors and patients to act quickly

That is about to change thanks to the coming data-driven health care revolution. With access to richer data in real time and able to see trends over many years, medical professionals will soon be much better equipped to track changes in our bodies and recognize the first signs of any number of conditions. This will put them in a much better position to recommend preventive treatment, such as rest or changes in diet or lifestyle, or medication that can nip the problem in the bud even before the symptoms emerge.

As far as patients are concerned, the data will not only motivate them seek treatment and  improve their lifestyles, it will also make it possible for them to track improvements over time. Which in turn means fewer trips to the doctor.

It is no wonder that the concept of telehealth is a popular one in the tech and medical press the possibilities are endless. It is almost the stuff of science fiction, doctors will be able to monitor the health of their patients without ever having to see them. That is the theory at least.

But where will all the data come from?

They may share the same dream, but all companies with aspirations in the advanced diagnostics and data-driven health care market face the same major challenge. How do we collect the necessary data when patients typically only ever see their doctors every few months?

This lack of data leaves very little scope for sophisticated analytics and algorithms to work their magic. Those devices that do exist to track ‘health’ data are focused almost exclusively on the fitness market and only measure simple metrics like heart rate, daily step count and sleep activity. Sadly, this data is neither rich nor accurate enough to be used by the medical profession. Despite all the hype, there is no device currently on the market to track a patient’s vital signs around the clock and send that data to the cloud for analysis.

Smarter than a smartwatch

One example of a company that is trying to change that is MAP Health Watcher the creator of the MAP Health Watch. To be used as part of a service comprising an mobile app and a service, this is the first device capable of simultaneously monitoring six vital signs 24 hours a day, and sending the data to the cloud for analysis.

In tandem with the paid MAP Health Service, the device, which looks like a standard smart watch and is currently available to pre-order on crowdfunding site Indiegogo, will make it possible to identify the first signs of illness even before you feel anything. And it is not all technically wizardry in the cloud, MAP Health Watcher also employs a dedicated medical team to monitor the data and alert users should anything unusual emerge. Issues that can be detected include anything from a bacterial infection resulting from a common cold, to the very early stages of heart disease. To learn more about the MAP Health Watcher’s diagnostic capabilities, click here.

A vision for the future

Like most doctors, the MAP Health Watcher team strongly believes that prevention is always better than cure, but that is easier said than done. The team’s  hope is that by giving patients and their doctors a better understanding of their health, the device will be used most often as an early warning system. This will in turn help users to take the necessary steps to improve their lifestyle, or get treatment before anything too serious occurs.

Of course, sometimes not even prevention is enough, which is why MAP can also assist subscribers to its service in the event of an emergency. If the watch receives signals from the user’s body that they are at risk, MAP Health Watcher’s qualified team of doctors will call to advise patients to see a physician straight away. Equipped with a panic button and direct connections to emergency services, doctors and family members, the MAP Health Watch promises to be just as useful in an emergency. Given that 50% of deaths from heart attack occur within an hour, usually before the patient has got to hospital, getting and acting on the early warning signs can be a life saver.

Note: If you don’t know the first signs of heart attack, take this quick test from the American Heart Association.

With a wealth of expertise in diagnosis and data analytics, the MAP Health Watcher team shares this vision for the future of data-driven health care. For several years, these specialists from a wide variety of fields of medicine, mathematics and computing have been dedicated to creating a system that can recognize the very first signs of illness with the aid of artificial intelligence. The MAP Health watch is the final piece in the puzzle.

As The Medical Futurist Bertalan Meskó says, “If they can deliver what they promise, it could be a game changer.