The United States spends an inordinate amount of money on health care. Much of this spending goes to data acquisition, to medical monitoring, and to assessment of how our health systems function. But are there other areas where money devoted to gathering health data might be better spent?
Our health is a product of the world around us. This is perhaps most easily understood by thinking about how much time we spend in the various places where we live, work, and gather.
Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics offer a picture of these places. Out of 8,736 hours in a year, we spend more than half, or about 4,566, at home. We spend 1,893 hours in our workplaces or 1,198 at school. We spend 93 hours in places of worship. Far down the list, at 15 hours a year, are interactions with the health care delivery system.
That picture is enough to make two things clear.
First, insofar as health is shaped by where and how we live, it is a product of where we are between visits to doctors and hospitals. We are simply not in contact with the health care system very often. It must be something, then, about all the time we spend away from medicine that determines our health.
Second, because health care is really a small part of our life, it should not take up too much of our health improvement time or attention. Ultimately, medical care is a means to an end, and that end is living a full and satisfying life.
With this in mind, what data do we need to generate better health? We need data about how all that other nonmedical time shapes our health.
As we think about the apps and systems that collect data, we should use these advances to gather information on our home life, our time spent at work, and our time spent in schools and in places of worship—the time that truly shapes our health. Innovation in this area of data collection could break new ground, paying dividends for those who pioneer it, and for those who reap the health benefits of these emerging tools.
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