By Patricia Flatley Brennan, Director, Project HealthDesign
This past Sunday's New York Times Magazine was a
treasure-trove for those who like to count. First, the Letters section
includes several commentaries (including my own) on the May 2nd article
The Data-Driven Life.
Next, John Allen Paulos tempers the numbers-enthusiasts by exhorting
numericists to know where the numbers come from and why they were collected in
the first place in Metric Mania.
Finally, pictures (Andrew Kuo's wheel) and articles keep the numbers game going
- exploring how numbers serve as an indicator of wealth, an initiator of
worries, and a chance to compare one's self to others, or to previous versions
It's auspicious, isn't it, that numbers are taking hold in all areas of life. Numbers provide simple, familiar metrics to guide our action - even a kindergartner knows that 8 is more than 4.
Our work encouraging better characterization of the everyday health experiences of people advocates for better attention to the observations of daily living. These observations serve as indicators of health, indicators of worry, and a chance to compare ourselves to our earlier selves, or to others. Personal health has joined the numbers game!
But, remember, indicators are simply that - calls to action; harbingers of greater awareness. To know what they mean, particularly in the context of personal health, requires that we follow some of the advice advanced by Paulos - understand how and why things are counted, be sure that we know what they really mean, and don't go beyond the data. ODLs are what they are, indicators of health in everyday living. It will take time and conversation to make sure that these become meaningful in the exchange between doctors and patients.