It is becoming clearer each day that new technologies are further highlighting the great expanse between intention and application. As with all technologies of value, medicine has pitted the powerful desire of human liberation from suffering and the pursuit of a longer life up against the powerful desire to create centralized systems of management, both for profit and control.
The fact is that Big Data and its attendant analytics is irresistible for central authorities. The ability to accurately predict macro trends, particularly in health, gains some level of public acceptance when married with arguments about the exorbitant price of healthcare. Put simply: people want to feel better, for cheaper, and might be more willing than normal to trade a bit of liberty in order to make this a reality.
In the medical field, this merger of Big Data and healthcare is known as Predictive Medicine, or more informally as “precision health.” It is a concept that is being heavily invested into by all major tech companies. However, we are beginning to see a move by tech companies not only to provide tools to the healthcare industry that might legitimately better serve patients at a lower cost, but some of them are working in tandem with insurance companies and the healthcare industry to form partnerships that are entering uncomfortably into the territory of behavior management and social engineering.
There is no better example of this new approach than the new announcement by Comcast that it seeks to work with hospitals to profit-share any savings that Comcast can negotiate.
Comcast claims to have been working on a proprietary in-home medical tracking device that they feel can be used to monitor health and form a cost-saving relationship between patients and the medical system.
But, similar to the above-linked article about auto insurance, if the patient wants a cheaper rate, they might just have to agree to constant surveillance.
The device will monitor people’s basic health metrics using ambient sensors, with a focus on whether someone is making frequent trips to the bathroom or spending more time than usual in bed. Comcast is also building tools for detecting falls, which are common and potentially fatal for seniors, the people said.[…]
Unlike most home speakers, the device won’t be positioned as a communications or assistant tool, and won’t be able to do things like search the web or turn lights on and off. But it will have a personality like Alexa and it will be able to make emergency phone calls in the case of a health event, the people said.
As CNBC goes on to note, this is part of the expanding trend of consumer smart devices that have spilled over from pure entertainment into healthcare.
The move would bring Comcast into competition with a number of technology companies, including Google, Amazon and Apple, which have also explored how to help older people “age in place,” or live independently for as long as possible. Google is looking at using its Nest and Google Home devices in senior living facilities, Apple added fall detection and heart health tracking to its smartwatch, and Amazon has been exploring opportunities in tech for the growing aging population for several years.
So far, one could choose to read only the upside to all of this, but it is the final paragraph which shows the murky waters we have entered, as it is unclear where private enterprise begins and government management ends.
My emphasis added:
In addition to developing new hardware, Comcast has been in talks with several large hospitals, including Rush in Chicago, said a person familiar with the conversation. The discussions with Comcast have centered around using the device to ensure that patients don’t end up back in the hospital after they’ve been discharged. Increasingly, hospitals are getting penalized by the federal government for failing to ensure that patients don’t end up right back in the emergency room, and are looking into tools to monitor patients remotely.
It is important to keep in mind that the above scenario is not only limited to physical ailments. There has been a concurrent trend to evaluate mental health in real-time and even to intervene if certain indicators trigger a call for action.
A statement from Indiana University School of Medicine showed that they have identified blood biomarkers that can be used in conjunction with apps to predict a risk of suicide (and we have to presume other dangers to self and public), emphasis added:
“We believe that widespread adoption of risk prediction tests based on these findings during healthcare assessments will enable clinicians to intervene with lifestyle changes or treatments that can save lives,” said Alexander B. Niculescu III, M.D., Ph.D., professor of psychiatry and medical neuroscience at the IU School of Medicine and attending psychiatrist and research and development investigator at the Richard L. Roudebush Veterans Affairs Medical Center.
“We now have developed a better panel of biomarkers that are predictive across several psychiatric diagnoses. Combined with the apps, we have a broader spectrum predictor for suicidality,” Dr. Niculescu said. “In addition to reproducing and expanding our own previous work, we reproduce and expand other groups’ results in this burgeoning field.” (Source)
Facebook is reportedly getting in on A.I. mental health diagnosis as well by using pattern recognition to issue suicide alerts to local authorities.
The FDA approved a digital pill that uses sensors to relay collected information to doctors so they know if a patient is taking their medicine. Even the New York Times referred to this as, “Biomedical Big Brother.”
The “potential” for Big Brother entering the health field comes from Big Tech providing surveillance systems directly to government (and, incidentally, forms the basis for textbook fascism).
The government, in effect, has become one big insurance company. So where it appears that Comcast’s vision is in the spirit of competition to provide lower prices and reap rewards for doing so, it is the government that decides which company gains access, which patients are eligible, if certain patients must be eligible to receive tracking and intervention, as well as exactly how money is ultimately made and spent. That is not a free market.
According to the CNBC report, Comcast still hasn’t ironed out the final details for when their new technology will be released and exactly how their products and potential partnerships will be rolled out, but there certainly are plenty of questions that need to be asked while there is still time to get satisfactory answers.