The smartphone shortcut to population health measurement?

Yesterday I wrote about how health insurance might follow in the footsteps of auto insurance by providing discounts for people who engage in healthy behaviors. Auto insurers use onboard telematics. Health plans could soon use remote patient monitoring tools.

There’s another new technology used in the auto world that might be copied for health care: Street Bump, a smartphone app that uses the devices’ GPS and accelerometer to automatically locate potholes. Users drive around and their phone automatically reports the existence of a pothole. If enough users install the app there will be enough data to obviate the need for trucks to drive around looking for trouble. And as the app gets better and more data are reported, Street Bump will be able to distinguish potholes from false positives such as sewer grates, raised sidewalks and roadkill.

Could such a tool be used to crowdource population health data as well? Rather than doing surveys and evaluating databases, I wonder whether researchers could tap into smartphone data to assess the health of the population as a whole and to segment it in different ways. It would require more than an accelerometer and GPS but it doesn’t seem like a smartphone based vital sign recorder is too far fetched.

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