In-Car Health Monitoring: Lemon or Lifesaver?


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constantly being pulled over for speeding and worried about making the next payment. Stress? You betcha. Indication of poor driving in the moment? Who knows?

Ford is also working on a stress sensor program that, when it identifies extreme stress or distraction, will turn off the drivers’ cell phone ringer. If they think that is the cure for distraction, I think they will be disappointed. A better solution will be to require drivers to turn their phones off completely or new technology that makes in-car cell phone use impossible at all times, because one does not have to be stressed to be distracted by the phone. We all see the texting, phoning idiot drivers on the road now, and most of them look just fine until they hit the light pole. This isn’t a personal stress monitoring issue; it is a public safety issue. I really wonder about the value of this approach.

And sensors for sweaty palms as a meaningful stress indicator to suggest getting off the road? Have these scientists met teenagers? How are they going to factor in sweat baselines for those heading out on a first date or going to a job interview or whatever?

But while I can generally understand the idea of sensors that impact driving ability very directly, particularly sensors that detect blood alcohol level or falling asleep, it’s the sensors designed for general health management that really give me pause. I know smart people are thinking about this so maybe there is merit, but I wonder how effective of a tool this really can be. It’s hard not to think about all this without harkening back to KITT, the car in Knight Rider, which monitors Michael Knight’s heart rate and other vital signs and displays them on monitors. KITT was very sophisticated and could identify not just biometric distress, but injuries, poisoning, and other factors key to crime fighting success. Same goes for the Batmobile, as I recall. So is the real audience for these products: the senior market, for whom they are currently being developed, or the middle-aged vigilante crime fighter driving a muscle car? Very different demographic.

A key idea behind biometric sensors in cars is to extend the driving lives of senior citizens who might otherwise, at least in theory, be unable to drive safely if their condition wasn’t closely monitored. Yikes, is all I can say to that. There are both inherent risks in letting people drive who might pose a risk to themselves and others, and a question in my mind as to whether monitoring would prevent problems fast enough to prevent dangerous outcomes. A sensor that detects heart attacks and immediately stops the car? Uh, too late, and by the way, not a problem limited to senior citizens.

Also, let’s just say your car can measure your glucose level and let you know you are in danger. I would wager that most diabetics who follow their proper regimen don’t need this, and the ones that do may or may not pay attention, just like they don’t now. And let’s say that data is being shown on the car display. Isn’t that, combined with the worry of constantly being watched and getting dashboard feedback about biometric parameters, going to itself be a huge distraction?

Plus, who is going to pay for this monitoring? As everyone in healthcare ought to know by now, the presence of data isn’t valuable, it’s what is done with data that creates value. If you need a risk management or care coordination system to sit behind the sensor data stream in order to let drivers know they need to get some insulin or take their blood pressure medicine, some analytics system is probably going to have to sit behind that to put the real-time data into context of the driver’s existing health situation. So are we going to see Lexus SUVs integrated with the Epic EMR?

Moreover, remotely collected data that doesn’t have human intervention to back it up hasn’t been all that successful to date in achieving good outcomes in the monitoring game. Programs that combine monitoring with clinician engagement with the patient are far more effective. So how might this work? Is Healthways going to start an automotive division? Is Ford going to start hiring care managers to triage at-risk patients from those who stopped at Dunkin Donuts and had a glucose spike? Maybe Tom and Ray Magliozzi can … Next Page »

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Lisa Suennen is a managing director with GE Ventures and former managing member of the Psilos Group, as well as the co-author of Tech Tonics: Can Passionate Entrepreneurs Heal Healthcare With Technology? and author of the blog Venture Valkyrie. Follow @venturevalkyrie

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