MY TAKE: What if Big Data and AI could be intensively focused on health and wellbeing?

By Byron V. Acohido

Might it be possible to direct cool digital services at holistically improving the wellbeing of each citizen of planet Earth?

Preserving privacy for a greater good

A movement aspiring to do just that is underway — and it’s not being led by a covey of tech-savvy Tibetan monks. This push is coming from the corporate sector.

Last August, NTT, the Tokyo-based technology giant, unveiled its Health and Wellbeing initiative – an ambitious effort to guide corporate, political and community leaders onto a more enlightened path. NTT, in short, has set out to usher in a new era of human wellness.

Towards this end it has begun sharing videos, whitepapers and reports designed to rally decision makers from all quarters to a common cause. The blue-sky mission is to bring modern data mining and machine learning technologies to bear delivering personalized services that ameliorate not just physical ailments, but also mental and even emotional ones.

That’s a sizable fish to fry. I had a lively discussion with Craig Hinkley, CEO of NTT Application Security, about the thinking behind this crusade. I came away encouraged that some smart folks are striving to pull us in a well-considered direction. For a full drill down, please give the accompanying podcast a listen. Here are a few key takeaways:

A new starting point

Modern medicine has advanced leaps and bounds in my lifetime when it comes to diagnosing and treating severe illnesses. Even so, for a variety of reasons, healthcare sectors in the U.S. and other jurisdictions have abjectly failed over the past 20 years leveraging Big Data to innovate personalized healthcare services.

Healthcare providers haven’t yet figured out how to digitalize medical records in a way that robustly preserves patient privacy and keeps patient information out of data thieves’ hands. And they’re nowhere near figuring out how to apply data analytics and machine learning to make higher uses, at scale, of their patients’ ever-expanding digital footprints.

Put simply, the healthcare industry, thus far, has missed the personalization boat. Google, Facebook and Amazon know all about our online habits and preferences and can offer intelligent recommendations in real time. Do you know when your last Tetanus shot was, or can you easily find out?

The healthcare industry’s Big Data disconnect seems entrenched. So why not come at it a different way? NTT’s initiative suggests that a logical starting point is the individual patient — and not just with respect to diagnosing and treating serious illnesses.


“Our goal is to leverage cutting-edge technology, with personalized data, to improve what we like to call ‘precision care models,’” Hinkley told me. “We want to use technology and best practices to bring about a more human-centric approach to health and wellbeing . . . across the whole ecosystem, whether it’s personal health, mental health, social health or worker wellness.”

Fixing data governance

NTT is advocating the need for companies, governments and communities to get on the same page and start pulling in the same direction – on behalf of individual workers and citizens. To start, material gains can be made simply by shedding archaic workflows that remain all too common across the global healthcare industry.

All too many providers still have not gotten around to embracing robust data governance practices, for instance. The technology and frameworks to meticulously monitor and manage all sensitive data traversing or stored somewhere on a modern business network have long been readily available and are improving every day.

Yet robust data governance is still not uniformly practiced across the healthcare industry. This is why tracking down your personal medical records isn’t as easy as it should be – and why data thieves and ransomware purveyors are able to very profitably prey on healthcare organizations.

The current U.S. healthcare system collects data hospital by hospital and clinic by clinic. This has resulted in a vast, porous attack surface – and a stifling of innovation. Not nearly enough thought gets put into finding ways to securely and privately correlate disparate pieces of data to benefit the individual patient, in a personalized and precise way, Hinkley says.

“We need to move away from an approach of getting data from you and towards a focus on providing unique and useful data for you, in a secure and trustworthy way,” he says.

Uphill climb

There has long been plenty of patient data from traditional sources; and there’s a rising tide of fresh data pouring in from mobile apps, smart wristwatches and Internet-connected gym equipment. Meanwhile, cloud infrastructure, data analytics and machine learning tools stand at the ready to extract value from swelling data lakes.

So-called wellbeing plans could correlate all this data, including data points like cardiac performance, blood glucose levels and even genetic markers. The notion of leveraging technology to mainstream good habits and monitor healthy people for early intervention is by no means new. And the personal data to move this direction has been piling up for a while now.

NTT’s Health and Wellbeing initiative, in a sense, brings a renewed focus — and a useful framework — to get the ball rolling.

Observes Hinkley: “If we can build a wellbeing ecosystem that allows people to interact with of all these different points of care and support, just imagine what the world could be like . . . we’d allow people to feel connected and reduce stress on a global level. Think of the positivity that could bring around the world. People could live their best life.”

A long climb up a steep hill needs to happen. No different than any other industry, the healthcare sector must overcome rapidly expanding privacy and data security pitfalls. Yet raising the level of human wellness across the planet is technically doable, and it’s an endeavor certainly worthy of pursuing. I’ll keep watch and keep reporting.


Pulitzer Prize-winning business journalist Byron V. Acohido is dedicated to fostering public awareness about how to make the Internet as private and secure as it ought to be.

(LW provides consulting services to the vendors we cover.)


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