Wearable Data From One Million Patients?

It’s great when two different parts of my life at Intel collide.

Last week I had the opportunity to chat with Andrew Lamkin, a colleague at Intel who has been working on a project to put the prototyping of new healthcare wearables in the hands of anyone with a 3-D printer and a desire to create a useful new device.

In this project, Andrew’s team published a 3-D model for a wristwatch bezel that can be fitted with an Intel Edison and one or more breakout boards with sensors. (See for example, http://www.thingiverse.com/thing:803004.) The Edison’s computing power, combined with its ability to communicate via WiFi and Bluetooth, make it ideal for recording and transmitting a variety of signals from a user’s wrist. Data from accelerometer, temperature and a number of other sensors can be streamed from the device.

This is very thought-provoking for anyone interested in wearables and the data they produce…particularly if you recently attended the Working Group meeting for the President’s Precision Medicine Initiative, as I did on July 27 and 28. The Working Group is tasked with making recommendations to the President on what data should be recorded and made available for analysis in a national research cohort of one million patients to support the advancement of precision medicine. The topic of this working group session was “Mobile and Personal Technologies in Precision Medicine.”

The discussion covered a wide range of topics around the potential value of data from wearables, along with potential challenges and risks.  Interesting use cases that were exposed ranged from the measurement of environmental health factors to identification of stress and stress-relieving activities in college students. Of course, many challenges cropped up, and the question of whether a limited set of devices would be included in the initiative or whether the million patient cohort would be “BYOD” was left unresolved until the final report.

Dr. Francis Collins, the Director of the NIH, suggested that the NIH use some of its “prize-granting” funds to hold a bakeoff of wearable devices to decide what might be included in the design of the Million Patient Cohort.

After talking to Andrew about his Edison prototyping project, I became enamored with the idea of an army of device prototypers using his designs to prototype new and interesting wearables that might just end up as part of the Million Patient Cohort.

And as a data scientist, regardless of which devices are included, the thought of all the streaming data from one million patients gives me great optimism for the future of precision medicine in America.

What questions about wearables do you have?