CERRITOS, Calif.--(BUSINESS WIRE)--Questions about cigarette smoking, our alcohol consumption and exercise habits are among the questions we expect to be asked when we go to the doctor. However, these lifestyle questions may soon be expanded to include queries about our lives online, including our social media habits, according to a paper published today in Nature Biotechnology, and co-authored by Dr. Sachin Jain of CareMore and colleagues from Harvard Medical School.
How people interact online, combined and analyzed with other behavioral information, may help doctors more precisely assess human illness, according to Dr. Jain, Brian W. Powers, Dr. Jared B. Hawkins and Dr. John S. Brownstein. Coined by the Jain as “digital phenotype,” this extended observation of patients’ characteristics may change how doctors understand and treat certain health conditions – such as insomnia, for which late night social media posting may serve as an indicator and a range of behavioral health issues, manifested through the frequency, length and content of a patients’ social media posts.
“People are increasingly leaving a footprint of their health status through technology, including social media, forums, online communities, wearable technologies and mobile devices,” Jain said. “This information all has clinical value to a physician. The challenge is being aware of it and knowing how to access and interpret it.”
Digital phenotypes could provide an early warning system of a health crisis, such as suicidal thoughts, allowing for prompt intervention, said Brownstein, an associate professor at Harvard Medical School and chief innovation officer at Boston Children’s Hospital. They could also incent patients to improve their health through exercise. “Our digital breadcrumbs, whether from our online discussions or the health tracking devices we wear, have tremendous potential to inform clinical decision making,” Browstein explained. “The next step is to figure out how these data integrate into traditional electronic medical records.”
While the idea of a digital phenotype has great potential, Jain says that it has limitations, too, and raises the regular ethical questions around personal technology regarding privacy and what information can be accessed by whom.
“This is an evolving area,” Jain said. “Over the next few years, I expect tools to develop to bring the digital phenotype to the forefront of progressive medical practices.”
The paper is in the May 5 issue of Nature Biotechnology.
CareMore Health System, a wholly owned subsidiary of Anthem, is the parent company of multiple health plans that operate under three federally approved Medicare Advantage contracts (“CareMore Health Plan subsidiaries”). The CareMore Health Plan subsidiaries serve a total of more than 80,000 Medicare members throughout Southern California, Northern California, Las Vegas, Phoenix and Tucson, Arizona. CareMore specializes in health care programs supporting Medicare beneficiaries from the healthy aging to the chronically ill and/or frail. Learn more at www.caremore.com.