Imagine if we - we being government organizations, aid organizations, healthcare services, doctors, nurses, and the general public - had access to real time data around human health. We have the technology to tell us precisely which roads to take to get us to a destination, avoiding traffic (a la crowdsourced apps like Waze), and perhaps without even requiring a human driver, but we still face an incredible delay when it comes to knowledge of health data and how and where illnesses are spreading. If we could see this information in real time, like we see changes in weather or traffic, could we take action faster?
We hear about individual cases of contagious illnesses like Ebola sporadically, and only after patients have been seen by a nurse or physician. It wasn't until the epidemic reached dangerous levels that it was even on the radar of the general public. By then, countless others have been exposed to that illness. What if we could know when we were about to walk into an area where people were infected or demonstrating symptoms? What if we could know as soon as certain symptoms or signs of fever have been indicated or are beginning to trend? Would our plan of action change? Would prevention and concentrated allocation of resources become a larger focus or more attainable?
The vast majority of the world is now in some way connected, whether through basic phones, smartphones or other forms of technology. This presents an opportunity for individuals to communicate data like health conditions, to indicate signs of an illness, which if aggregated over an area can indicate trends and alert authorities to potential outbreaks before they become widespread. Often, there's much concern over personal health data and privacy issues. However, in the same way we are able to see major traffic patterns or be alerted to issues on the road without attributing information to individual drivers, the same can be the case for illness patterns.
Health tech companies like Kinsa Smart Thermometers (founded by CHAI's Inder Singh) and Sickweather (co-founded by Graham Dodge, who contributed to the first online Crime Map for crime.com) are already working toward this, starting with apps that collect aggregated health data and offer alerts and information in real time. This is the future of illness prevention, and it still goes back to a basic premise when it comes to epidemiology - early detection, early response. Only now we have the technology available to make this happen.