Dell's medical expert says patients' wearable data requires context, analysis

Knowing how many steps you took today doesn't help him much

Doctors find little value in the way activity data from patients' wearables is presented to them today.

So says Nick van Terheyden, a doctor who was recently appointed chief medical officer at Dell's healthcare and life sciences division. Far from improving patient care, he says, the deluge of data can overwhelm doctors and prevent them from seeing what's important.

"Do I care that you took 10,000 steps today? Not really," van Terheyden said.

That type of data is only useful if it's presented in the context of a person's overall health, he says. A marked drop in the number of steps a person takes over a certain time period could indicate the onset of arthritis, for instance.

Not surprisingly, Dell thinks it has an answer. Its cloud computing services can process the data from wearables to spot trends that might otherwise be hard to see. With those insights, patients can make changes to improve their health or doctors could intervene and take action.

In other words, while Dell has missed out on the market for wearables like fitness trackers and smart watches, it's trying to get in on the act by selling computing services for the back-end.

The wellness capabilities of wearables have been promoted as the next big thing in healthcare. Doctors can use the data to diagnose an ailment before the patient becomes seriously ill. The data can lead to more personalized health care and in some cases make medication unnecessary.

As well as needing proper analysis of the date, devices need to be interactive and keep users engaged, van Terheyden said, otherwise devices end up in a drawer. For instance, people will be more inclined to keep using a device that gives them tools to make decisions based on the data, he said.

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