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What is Health Data? An Introduction for Anyone

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I took a week off.  I unplugged to attend the memorial service for my mom. Thanks to readers who inquired about my absence, worried if I was OK.  I’m OK.

This is the second in a series of posts about Health Data, Health Information, and Health Wisdom. The first in the series can be found here. This is my 170th post. I starting in July 2012. I have over 2 thousand readers reading this blog as subscribers and in Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn from many walks of life and experiences with health care. Many wear more than one hat. Most are patients, some are family and friend caregivers, some are professionals and caregivers by trade, and some work in health technology. This series of posts is geared to everyone. I delight in trying to write for everyone. Considering health literacy while writing helps me organize and clarify my thoughts.  I welcome comments and suggestions. Please send them to me at or @healthhats.

Health data takes a pulse, tells a story, reviews a life, describes a group of people, and links cost to that health journey.

The pulse, represents the natural, and un-natural, changes a body experiences  – higher blood pressure, lower blood pressure; more weight, less weight; happier, sadder; steadier, shakier, pain, fear, anxiety, relief, feeling respected or alone – on and on. Some pulses are felt, seen, heard, sensed, smelled, timed, and some are electronic (lab tests, x-rays, apps etc.).  The most common form of pulse data is the list, a continual pulse over time: medications taken or not taken, minutes or hours of activity, wounds cared for, mood changes… The list can be in your memory, on scraps of paper, in a spreadsheet, on an app, in an Electronic or Personal Health Record, anywhere. People in your team, including you, take different pulses. Most different is that yours are often felt from the inside out, while everyone else’s is from the outside in. This inside/out business is really important. You are the only one who takes pulses from the inside. You are the only one who experiences what you experience. However, it’s all data about the same thing – you.

The story is the characters (the health team) and the journey. So identifying information about you and the team (name, address, phone number, etc.), appointments scheduled and kept, goals made and achieved – or not, side trips, passing characters, stuff that happened. Stuff like events, getting better, getting worse, illnesses, medications, surgeries, instructions. It’s a tale of events in your journey to be shared between you and health team members. Another post we’ll talk about that sharing business and who gets to see the data.
The review includes observation and interpretation. Data by itself is ink on paper, or bytes in the ether – no value. It doesn’t begin to have value until somebody says so what? What does it mean to me, to experts, to the rest of the team? Is it good or bad, does it change in waves that seem reasonable or change rapidly? Does it tell about the past, can it predict the future, does it motivate anyone to do anything?
Health data about groups of people is called population health. More about population health later.
Final, cost. Cost can be expense, money exchanged, people and companies pay and get paid.  But it’s also personal and community well-being and value or suffering, damage, and loss. Cost is pretty complicated.  I’m not ready to write about cost, just yet. But I will.
So this has been my longest post yet. Feels good to be back after the short break. Stay in touch. It warms me.



  • Sue says:

    Wonderful post–Danny. Thanks!

  • Suzanne Conroy says:

    Well put Danny. Cost could also be thought of as having short-term or long term value. Does this expense help me in the now or for the future? Better interpretation of the data will help us determine the value of the cost/investment.

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