The Power of Healthcare Data and Why We Need Decentralization

It is a capital mistake to theorize before one has data. Insensibly, one begins to twist facts to suit theories instead of theories to suit facts.
—  Sherlock Holmes

It’s no coincidence that in both my book and in this article, I’ve started talking about data by using a quote from Sherlock Holmes. The world’s most famous consulting detective used the data he gathered in each of his investigations to arrive at a conclusion, and he was doing this as far back as 1887. We all create huge amounts of data on a daily basis, and yet none of this makes it into our health records. Today’s healthcare system, then, is much more Dr. Watson than Sherlock Holmes — and it’s a Dr. Watson who’s trying to theorize before he has data.

But with data comes the problem of data ownership, as well as the legislative barriers which are put in place to make sure that data is stored and processed correctly. Strictly speaking, much of the data about patients is technically owned by EHR companies, but that won’t always be the case. Eric Topol MD recently sparked a Twitter debate about the whole situation in which he began his argument with a simple — but accurate — statement: “It’s your body.”


Mining Health Data

Healthcare data is vitally important, both now and for the future, and so it’s unsurprising that healthcare startups are increasingly turning their attention to the field of data mining and data capture.

One of the most interesting companies to enter the mix is China’s iCarbonX, a Shenzhen-based biotechnology firm that’s formed an alliance with seven technology companies that specialize in capturing different types of healthcare data. The idea is to “use algorithms to analyze reams of genomic, physiological and behavioral data and provide customized health and medical advice directly to consumers through an app.”

iCarbonX was founded in October 2015 and has already raised more than $600 million in investment, $200 million of which came from WeChat owner and Chinese powerhouse Tencent. Jun Wang, the company’s founder, believes that the alliance will help them to gather data more cheaply and more quickly than rivals like Google and IBM. He hopes to have samples and data from one million people within five years and to mine users’ genomes “to scour biological molecules from various tissues to provide a more accurate and actionable picture of someone’s health.”

It’s still early days for the alliance, and Wang himself has admitted that the success of the venture will depend on whether people submit their data and follow the advice that the app gives, adding, “[It] might tell me not to drink, but I don’t have to listen.”

Still, it’s clear that there’s a lot of potential for the technology, and it’ll be interesting to see how the burgeoning Chinese tech sector will continue to disrupt healthcare. After all, there’s a real need for a solution like the one that iCarbonX has to offer, and while America has historically been one of the largest global innovators when it comes to technology, China is starting to pose some serious competition — and they don’t have many of the problems that hold American healthcare back.