The Quantified Self: it’s a major goal of the wearable Health Tech industry. If we knew more about the bodies of more individuals and their health outcomes, we could detect disease sooner, discover which treatments are truly most effective, lower healthcare costs, and a host of other wonderful benefits. As a result, we welcome the development of wearable devices that can gather biometric data about the wearer, around the clock, day after day. These devices will provide the information that will be grist for the Big Data mills that will winnow out the insights we seek.
But just how are we going to get all that data? We can’t just require everyone to wear sensors. Or can we? There are examples of corporation creating health programs for their employees that include logging data with a fitness tracker, but these are optional programs. Oral Roberts University stands out because they require all incoming students to wear a Fitbit that the university provides. This may seem a bit overbearing, but it makes more sense when taken in context. Every since ORU was founded in 1965, students have been required to maintain exercise logs as part of the university’s goal to focus on “the Whole Person: mind, body, and spirit,” according to ORU President William M. Wilson. The Fitbit requirement is simply an extension of that requirement, with the intent that it will make the record-keeping tasks easier and more accurate. In fact, the university has made the Fitbit optional for existing students, and hundreds of students have apparently taken advantage of the program.
The good news is that this program can provide a wealth of longitudinal data for a defined population, which could lead to community benefits along with the health gains for individuals. But this may not be a practical solution for other organizations, such as businesses that would like to make a similar requirement for its employees. There are many regulations covering employee privacy, disabilities, and other factors that could make such a program difficult — or even impossible — to implement. We all can benefit from the gathering of more data about individual health experiences, but just how we’re going to get that information remains a tricky problem.