The Public's Health: What Data Do We Need for Health? | Public Health Post

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We spend, as the reader of this column will already know, an inordinate amount of money on our healthcare. Much of our recent spending goes to data acquisition, to medical monitoring, and to assessment of how our health systems function.
Are there other places where money devoted to gathering health data might be better spent?
Our health is a product of the world around us. This is perhaps most easily understood by thinking about how much time we spend in the various places where we live, work, and gather.  
Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics offer a picture of what we are doing and where we are doing it. Out of 8,736 hours in a year, we spend more than half, or about 4,566 at home. We spend 1,893 hours in our workplaces or 1,198 at school. We spend 93 hours in places of worship. Far down the list, at 15 hours a year, are interactions with the healthcare delivery system. 
That picture is enough to make two things clear.
First, insofar as health is generated by where and how we live our lives, health is what happens between visits to doctors and hospitals. We are simply not in contact that much with our doctors and the healthcare system, and so it must be something about the many other hours in our life that determines our health. 
Second, because healthcare is really a very small part of our life, it should not take up too much of our health improvement time or attention. Ultimately, medical care is a means to the end of living a full and satisfying life.
So, with this in mind, we revisit the question we started with: what data do we need to generate better health? We believe that when we understand where health is generated, it becomes self-evident that we need data about how all that other "non-medical" time produces health.
As we rush to think about apps and systems that collect data, we believe our charge should be to collect data that tell us how our home life, our time spent at work, and our time spent in schools and in places of worship affects our health. Innovation in this area of data collection can break new ground and undoubtedly make a lot of money for those who pioneer it.

Michael Stein & Sandro Galea