In-Car Health 1/16/12

During a keynote last week at the Digital Health Summit (part of CES in Las Vegas) Ford, Microsoft, Healthrageous, and BlueMetal Architects announced a new partnership to research digital health and wellness integration into Ford cars. The idea here is that connected health tools are supposed to interact with consumers and consumers are spending an increasing amount of time in their cars. That plus the personal nature of the car setting theoretically makes it a good place to conduct health services. So why not marry connected health tools and connected car technology?

Specifically, data will be collected from drivers, transmitted using BlueMetal and Ford SYNC technology to Microsoft HealthVault, then to Windows Azure, where Healthrageous will analyze the data and provide the user with personalized health advice before he or she gets out of the car. This is very early stage and part of a research effort. Also of note is that Ford has announced a similar partnership with WellDoc and Medtronic.

I’ve written before about how I don’t understand in-car health systems like this, but I’m floored that Ford keeps announcing partnerships with big name connected health companies to test these services out. Is this just about PR, or do any of these companies think that this stands a chance of being used? I’m going with PR. At least I hope so for the health companies.

Maybe I don’t get this because I don’t drive very much. I try to use public transport or bike or work from home as much as possible, so I don’t have a regular commute. But when I get in the car, I just want to have a few minutes to relax and listen to music or maybe a podcast. If I had RunKeeper asking me how many cups of water I drank today or what my blood pressure is, I think I’d burn out pretty quickly. If we’re looking to engage and motivate patients, I think we need to be careful to not follow them around everywhere they go, like Big Brother issuing health and wellness advice. Passive monitoring is great, but don’t remind people that you’re doing it everywhere they go.

If this wasn’t Healthrageous and maybe somebody like Fitbit being tested, I might see it making some sense. The Quantified Self people like to be monitored and would probably love to have a dialogue about themselves while in the car. For people with diabetes or other chronic, lifestyle-related conditions, this is just overkill.

If Ford was looking for a health-related service to integrate, the one that makes the most sense is ZocDoc. Since the in-car technology (Ford SYNC) is voice activated, why not enable a person to tell you the search criteria for a doctor, read them some options, and then enable them to book? Then e-mail or text them the info about the appointment before they get out of the car. That makes more sense to me. Or maybe enable instant access to nurse call services or even telepsych services like the new iCouch, so a driver can have somebody talk them down while they’re losing their patience in traffic.

What do you think? Do commuters out there see this being a valuable in-car service?


Travis Good is an MD/MBA involved with health IT startups. More about me.

  • Heidi Pape Laird

    Sitting in cars for long periods of time has got to be a health issue, along with sitting at desks for long periods of time.
    Another health issue is distracted driving. And while we’re at it, how about bored driving?
    Using commuting time to relax, listen to music or books on tape is an excellent way to take advantage of the time.
    I could see interactive voice commands and responses where you ask for calming music, or a seated exercise suggestion or a meditation, but nothing too stressfull, exciting or distracting.

  • chris wasden

    I think the key is passive monitoring. To what extent can they gather information on me without me doing anything that can provide insights about my health and populate a database that can provide me some guidance or direction. The seat can weigh me, the steering wheel can gather some information such as pulse, temperature, chemical info. Most diabetics have a glucometer in their car. With Sync they can sync all this with your smartphone and ask a few questions.

    I think that there is something here, but not sure the business model. It is more of a bundled service with other Sync stuff that must be integrated into apps and devices.

  • David Lester

    I see that there are a series of portions of the majority of our lives where health data can be monitored, at work, at home, shopping, in transit. There are other events but these occur pretty much every day for many of us. While I agree that this may appear to be overkill at present, I think it is important to begin to explore these different opportunities. The value of this will be realized when all of these recorded activities come together. So, I am in favor of this “intrusion” of health monitoring with the longer term view that what will be the final product will be different from what the various products of what we have now. Hopefully it will be an integrated solution based on the best available components.

  • Brian

    It is a dumb idea and it will pass.

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