The world's most connected human
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14 September 2015Karen Monks
I recently read about Chris Dancy, Chief Digital Officer and Senior Vice President of Healthways, Inc. and “The world’s most connected human.” In my line of business and as an avid NPR listener, I really should have heard of him earlier than now. If you haven’t heard of him and you are reading this blog, you should know about him, too. Chris utilizes up to 700 sensors, devices, applications, and services to track, analyze, and optimize his very existence every minute of every day. I listened to a few of his interviews (I am a curious person!) and found that he has been doing this self-tracking for nearly six years. You can really say he was on the cutting edge of this idea of a quantified self before most people even heard of the FitBit. According to Chris, this quantification enables him to see the connections of otherwise invisible data. As a result, he has experienced dramatic upgrades to his health, productivity, and quality of life. So what does he track? In a NPR interview while wearing five sensors (FitBit, Nike Field band, BodyMedia sensor, Wahoo TICKR, and his phone) Chris talked about how he has become ‘one with the data’ because he has seen the benefits of understanding his moods, heart rate, and overall health. He admitted that it’s not for everyone, but being a data junkie he said this behavior fit right into his interests. He expanded what he measured because he was interested in the data for which companies are willing to give discounts. If a company was willing to give him a $600 discount for seeing a doctor, going to the gym, and eating better, he wanted to know what data were they considering and what benefits he would derive as a result of knowing what the data said. He also said something very key: “If you can measure it, someone will and that someone should be you.” So why has he intrigued me so much? Because he said in 2013 that he believed the idea of a quantified self would be ubiquitous in five years. And it would expand beyond the fitness worlds and health care implications to the physical workplace and other industries. He saw sensors as being omnipresent in giving people feedback while they work. Examples could be environmental sensors that let someone change the lighting in their office to reflect a mood one had while on vacation or track ambient sound so that the sensor notifies you to reflect on the tone of voice used in a conversation. The goal, of course, is to have a more productive work environment. Chris Dancy’s rationale for wanting to know more about the data companies use to give discounts intrigues me the most. Many health insurance companies give discounts for proving that you lead an active lifestyle and for years now, consumers have been able to send driving data to auto insurance firms who offer reduced rates for good driving via a dongle that is plugged into their car's onboard diagnostics port. Recently this practice moved into the realm of life insurance. John Hancock has become the first life insurer to offer ratepayers a discount when they use Fitbit wristbands that enable exercise tracking. John Hancock policyholders who wear a Fitbit and connect it to the internet can get discounts of up to 15% on their life insurance policy as part of Hancock's partnership with Vitality, a service provider that integrates wellness benefits with life insurance. I already consider myself a quantified being because I track my fitness daily through my FitBit, and use that data to push myself to walk more and be more active. I am not sure I believe that my work environment needs sensors to make me more productive at work, but maybe they would. I don’t share my FitBit data with anyone yet, but I would be willing in the right circumstances. My insurers are not asking for my data which to me means that many insurers are not ready to accept the data. As mentioned above, John Hancock is the first life insurer; maybe others are soon to follow. Will it happen in the next three years? My gut instinct says no but I hope to be proven wrong. IBM’s Watson Health Cloud suggests that the medical industry is looking more deeply into how to capture, analyze, and use the multitude of medical data that is created every year, some of which is from fitness trackers and other sensors. Maybe Watson’s analysis and cloud availability of data will yield better methods of underwriting for insurance. Yet, going back to Chris Dancy . . . during one of the NPR broadcasts Robert Wachter, author of the Digital Doctor, said that today very little of the extraordinary amount of data Chris was capturing is truly useful to doctors or insurers. I guess if that changes, Chris will be ready.