Recently, we hosted a networking event to bring together HR professionals across the Bay Area. Nestled in a beautiful room at the San Francisco Four Seasons, we shared great food, great company, and gleaned some great nuggets of wisdom as well, not only from each other, but also from our guest speaker Dr. Harry Greenspun, Director of Deloitte’s Center for Health Solutions.

Dr. Greenspun spent time with us at the event, as well as some one-on-one time with our Chief Marketing Officer in this podcast, highlighting some interesting trends in the digital health space, specifically, the advancements in health data that are currently underway.

And these advancements aren’t isolated to health data. Corporations across industries are jumping in to take part in this development. In the last decade alone, technology has advanced in a way to allow us access to loads of data. Tons of it. So much so that a new term emerged to fully describe the amount of data we’ve produced and collected: Big Data, capitalized.

An example Dr. Greenspun cited was that of a leading nationwide retailer who recognized the profitability of pregnancies and set out to find a way to market to pregnant women before the baby’s due date. Turns out kids can be expensive before they’re even born! But how would a corporation know about the impending birth without asking each individual directly?

Enter rewards cards. These ubiquitous cards offer discounts and coupons to shoppers in exchange for purchasing behavior. Using a “rewards” card to track purchases across time, the consumer inadvertently offers the retailer glimpses into his or her life. So prenatal vitamins for a pregnant mother? Sure, that one doesn’t take much deducing. But cotton balls and fragrance-free laundry detergent? Even Nancy Drew would have trouble sussing out that the purchaser is approaching the baby’s due date based on these items.

Well, with Big Data, she wouldn’t. Using mass amounts of purchasing history across millions of individual consumers, this particular retailer was able to make these kinds of algorithmically-educated assumptions about their customers and market to them accordingly.

Data is changing healthcare as well, allowing individuals access to unprecedented amounts of information, right at our fingertips. Dr. Greenspun brought up the digital health tracker phenomenon which has made a big splash in the marketplace for everyone, from athletes to would-be couch potatoes. These fitness trackers show us exactly how many steps we’ve taken, how many hours we slept, how long we’ve sat, sedentary at our desks, pouring over blog posts about data. . .

Pretty great stuff. Or pretty scary, depending on how you see it. This could be a way to simplify and better our lives, or it could be the first surreptitious step in SkyNet’s march toward world domination. Regardless, Big Data is changing healthcare and our lives in general, but Dr. Greenspun warns that too much of it can be overwhelming and render the data useless. For example, one would expect that the number of “Top 100 hospitals in the USA” would be 100 hospitals.

But one would be off by about 620. Depending on the source of the data, how it is compiled, the criteria used in evaluation, there are 720 hospitals on a “Top 100” list, with about 10% of these hospitals appearing on multiple lists. Without a single source of truth, this data does not offer as much insight as it could.

Similarly, those fitness trackers that everyone got for the holidays? The shine typically starts wearing off after a few months as people become desensitized to the amount of data available. So what if you only logged 3,000 steps yesterday? It all just becomes a mess of numbers that don’t tie into the real world at all, right?

Not necessarily. Dr. Greenspun’s answers to this systematic desensitization? Make it social. Set goals and make it competitive. Share your numbers with your network in order to encourage each other and hold each other accountable. In other words, bring the abstract into reality.


Vibha Salgamay – Camera phone enthusiast, flexitarian, and friend to canines, Vibha is the Marketing Coordinator with Sequoia.