Today, I am writing this post from bed, heavily under the influence of DayQuil. This got me thinking, could Big Data have predicted that I would get sick? Am I more, or less prone to illness? And how can companies utilize this information to reduce healthcare expenditures? Sick With the Cold or Flu? Could Big Data Help? I started digging into the subject and found that some companies are already doing this. Employee wellness firms and insurers have teamed up with companies to mine data to predict individuals’ health needs. Not surprisingly, one of the companies doing this is Walmart. Specifically, they have hired firms to crunch employee data to determine what workers have a higher risk of developing diabetes. They use this information to send personalized messages to these employees, encouraging them to visit doctors, or even consider diet and exercise. This is good for the employee’s health, and also reduces health care costs for employers. People who have active hobbies are likely to be healthier, so purchases at a bike shop can indicate better health and fitness

“I bet I could better predict your risk of a heart attack by where you shop and by where you eat than by your genome.” – Harry Greenspun

It makes sense that a person that spends money at a bike shop is going to be healthier that a person that spends their money on video games. But what else can indicate better health?

  • High credit scores (those with lower scores are less likely to pick up prescriptions or schedule follow-up appointments etc.)
  • Voting in midterm elections (This was discovered among Colorado state employees. Midterm voters are more active in their community)
  • Grocery shopping (Obviously someone who shops at an organic grocery store is likely to be healthier than someone who frequently purchases potato chips)
Some have questioned this in the workplace, as federal health-privacy laws prohibit employers access to employees’ personal health data and information. However, companies can work around this by contracting with wellness firms that have access to this data. Furthermore, participation in these programs is optional. Although many people, I am sure would find it helpful to receive data and information that would urge them to improve their health and wellbeing.   Here’s a video that shows what types of historical, medical and personal data can be collected to support health measures.

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