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Curbside Consult with Dr. Jayne 5/20/13

May 20, 2013 Dr. Jayne 2 Comments


Several readers shared this link about a smartphone app that tracks patient activity and reports it to physicians. Called Ginger.io, the app is being studied at several hospitals in the US. The goal is to mine data on phone use and movement to show changes in patterns that could indicate illness or worsening of chronic conditions.

The app has to be activated by a hospital or health care company and obtains a baseline on personal activities once it’s activated. Caregivers are notified when there are changes in patterns of travel, phone calls, texting, etc. According to the Ginger.io website, it uses both passive data collected from the phone and active data reported by patients to create context-sensitive interventions.

The behavioral analytics platform is based on research from the MIT Media Lab. Several interesting papers are referenced on the website. With the level of data that can be gathered, privacy is a concern. The site claims to “only collect data we need to paint a rough texture of your behavior.” Patients are able to control whether data is shared with clinicians and researchers and can opt out at any time.

As a primary care physician I find the idea intriguing. The key is in the predictive ability of the algorithms to identify when a patient would benefit from an intervention. For this to really take off with hospitals and health systems, however, outcomes are not enough. It’s going to have to demonstrate cost savings as well. It will also take some patient education to make some of the “insights” valuable. Just looking at the screenshot, they’re pretty vague. “On Wednesday, you spoke with 2 fewer people than average.” “You interacted with 22% more people than average on Thursday.”

It reminds me of a virtual parent of high school students. You need to get out more. Stop talking on the phone and go to bed. You’re spending longer on your homework than usual. Get some exercise. You’re texting too much. Your music is too loud. There are twice as many miles on the car as there should be for where you said you were going.

Thinking back to what my phone has been up to the last several days, I wonder what the app and related algorithms would think of me. My boss is out of town, so I used Monday and Tuesday as rare opportunities to work remotely. I love working from home – I’m at least 40 percent more productive than in the office and feel a greater sense of accomplishment. I was able to use my land line and wasn’t running around so I made virtually no calls. Would it think I was withdrawn? Or would it interpret the flurry of text messages as I tried to reschedule a girls’ night out as evidence that my behavior was still within the range of normal?

Have you tried Ginger.io or do you know anyone who has? I’d love to hear what they have to say about it. E=mail me.


E-mail Dr. Jayne.

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Currently there are "2 comments" on this Article:

  1. Wow. The possibilities are endless. Aside from the big brother aspect, this could be an excellent tool in designing workflow processees and the modern “time and labor” studies for effective productivity of clinicians in ACO’s, on the floor, etc. Very interested, will be following their growth. Thanks for sharing.

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