The United States, in particular, and the world, in general, faces a health care crisis of enormous proportions. The cost of care is already rising, but the combination of an aging population and changes to diet and lifestyle leaves a growing percentage of the population susceptible to chronic health conditions, such as heart disease and diabetes, which further drive health care costs. By 2020, the United States is expected to spend $4 trillion annually on healthcare -- more than the GDP of all but a handful of nations.
Health care, then, is ripe for innovation. Much comes from academia, which lets data scientists, economists, and medical professionals collaborate more freely than they might in a corporate setting, but new ideas come from the private sector as well.
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The Future of Health and Wellness Conference held earlier this month at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology highlighted the results of some of these collaborations. Collectively, they won't address the 30 percent of wasted health care spending -- some $800 billion per year -- that the Obama administration hopes health care reform can eliminate, but they demonstrate progress in understanding how patients age, cope with stress, change our behavior, and interpret the information that doctors give them.
1. Reality mining: Using data to influence healthy behavior
Using smartphones to collect information about what people are doing and how they are behaving, which Alex "Sandy" Pentland, director of the MIT Human Dynamics Laboratory, describes as "passive monitoring from the things you carry around every day," results in a data set that's "hugely richer than anything you've ever seen before." It's an extension of data mining known as reality mining, and its predictive capabilities seem to know few limits.