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Our Fitness Devices & Disparate Data

At the Digital Health Summit during CES last week, I had the chance to listen in on some incredible speakers talk about a very real challenge we face as more and more of us track all our runs and workouts on our FitBits, our Nike+ Fuel bands and our Jawbone Ups: how to ensure that all this data ends up in a place that is most easily accessible to us and in a way that can be useful to us long-term?

It’s all fine and well that I once used my FitBit to track steps and sleep patterns. But it doesn’t motivate me in quite the same way that my Nike+ Fuel band (ever present in every meeting, always reminding me I’ve not yet met my goal) does. Neither device, however, tracks my heart rate during runs and helps me understand true calories burned or how quickly I ran my last mile. I have my Polar FT40 watch for that. So that’s me – three devices, three different data sets, none of them talk to each other. Imagine if I had diabetes to track, medicine to regularly take, a doctor’s prescribed FitnessGlo regimen to work in as well? Where would all this data live and how could I access it in a way that was meaningful and actionable?

This was a topic of serious discussion during many of the digital health panels and though no final conclusions were reached, I feel we’re at a VHS/Betamax standards moment with device APIs. We must arrive at some standard way to share all the data in a patient/customer/user dashbaord. But who sets these standards? Who pays for them to be set? Who enforces them?

These early conversations remind me a lot of the publishing world fumbling toward a better understanding of how eBooks should be delivered across various reading devices. To DRM/not DRM? Nook? Kindle? iPad? My library of books in a Kindle/Apple + Open Source cloud that I can’t quite sort out and don’t have time to address. Sound familiar?

People always ask me why I spend so much time at publishing conferences when I’m no longer properly (if I ever was) in that world. I find that so many of the issues that one industry grapples with (MP3.com was one of my first clients…the music industry made all the big mistakes well before books did or health devices will) apply directly to another industry in ways “insiders” of the industry either can’t see or don’t want to admit.

And so, where are we? We’re at least having the conversation. It will be interesting to see where it goes.

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