In-Car Health Monitoring: Lemon or Lifesaver?


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start a whole new career after retiring from Car Talk where, instead of diagnosing mechanical issues, they diagnose acute exacerbations of chronic illness via OnStar.

And by the way, if history is any indicator (and it always is), if someone pays for biometric sensors to be installed in cars, they are also going to want in on the savings from avoided incidents—how does this all work? Is Toyota or BMW going to be the third wheel in some newfangled accountable care organization?

One of the issues that is not discussed enough in any discussion of passive patient monitoring is the consumer’s view of the experience. Some welcome it, but some are unwilling to be watched 24 hours per day, whether it’s Big Brother, their own adult child or Herbie the talking Volkswagen who is doing the watching. The WSJ article includes this quote:

Dick Myrick, a 63-year-old retired electrical engineer from Arlington, Mass., participated in AgeLab experiments in biometrically monitored driving. His says he would be interested in a car that kept tabs on his condition as part of its safety technology, but only if he was in control of the system. ‘I need to know that the function is on, and have it not on when I want,’ he says.

Having the ability to turn the system off kind of defeats the purpose, but makes clear my point. Finding the right balance between privacy and monitoring is not entirely obvious, but I can imagine plenty of people do not want to be videotaped constantly while driving, illness or not. In fact I imagine the sense of paranoia some might feel from constant surveillance could increase driver stress levels, particularly if they know they are being watched, have a runny nose and lack available Kleenex. As the saying goes, just because you are paranoid doesn’t mean they aren’t watching.

As I reflected on the WSJ car sensor article, I took a moment to read some of the reader comments, always the best part of any online story. If you are a real marketer with a mission to sell product, they say that you must always listen to your customer, and customers were talking (or typing as the case may be). Instead of or in addition to biometric monitors, drivers suggested the car companies invest in onboard auto technologies that administer espresso to sleepy drivers rather than just point out the sleepiness; another suggested that rather than technology that shuts off cell phones, how about gear that drowns out the sound of whiny kids asking “are we there yet?” Now that’s noise-canceling technology we can all appreciate.

Besides, isn’t this all about to become slightly moot if Google has their way and cars drive themselves? I guess when that comes to pass the auto manufacturers will have to outfit new cars with backseat driver monitoring technologies instead.

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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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