Personal health data from the crib?

Wired published an article yesterday by Hadley Leggett about the trend to tracking data about babies almost as soon as the little darlings have slipt the womb. New data-driven parenting is growing as a bunch of devices and services to monitor many things about neonates. Among the parameters parents may want to track are:

  • Sleep/wake periods
  • Diapers (and contents)
  • Bottles
  • Solid foods
  • Breast feedings
  • Medicines
  • Frequency of cries
  • Frequency of parent talk

The business model is selling devices and data storage services. For $200 there’s even a device for interpreting baby language skills as a possible interpreter of autism. For the older set, there are toys that record how the child plays with them.

The downside is, of course, parental obsession with making sure their child — despite its individuality — hits the markers in child development literature for normalcy or better. The benefits of other child development fads like “Baby Einstein” may be questionable so the question becomes: Will parents have the insight to use the information beneficially or could the preoccupation with the numbers work to the detriment of the child?

However, this development raises another question for me: Is this potentially the beginning of the personal health record for the next generation? Parents have been keeping “baby books” documenting the progress of their progeny for decades. But that information was not digital. Most of it remained in paper albums along with the cute pictures. One could speculate that a whole progression of data recording devices and services could track characteristics of children throughout childhood and become the basis of records for life. I have to assume that entrepreneurs in these new companies and old hands like Microsoft and Google that already have nascent health record systems like HealthVault and Google Health can foresee a product that begins before birth (as with the Kickbee belt) and  proceeds to the grave!

I’ll prognosticate that these infant services are the early indicators of what is to come for personal health records (PHR). What’s interesting is that the trend and market is to be consumer-driven, not doctor-driven. Physicians aren’t even moving with much haste to digitize the simple health data on patients they already have. I suspect that the data collected by parents and patients will soon overwhelm them. How are physicians to integrate measures picked up by monitors or smartphones into their assessment of health? That’s going to put those who collect their own health data into a new power relationship viz-a-viz their medical practitioners.

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