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Surprising Science

Using Big Data to Stop Heart Problems

By using digital medical sensors, physicians can collect a wide range of data from healthy people, creating a control group against which irregularities can be measured—and illness predicted. 

What’s the Latest Development?

To better protect people’s health, Dr. Leslie Saxon wants to collect the heartbeat rhythm of every person in the world, and she is creating a website to do it. Called everyheartbeat, the site will allow anyone to upload their heart rate data, perhaps taken from the iPhone light, the AliveCor iPhone case, or any other sensor. “The siteintended to be a place for people to continuously monitor their healthwill record and analyze all heartbeat data that comes in to find global patterns and even warn people of potential heart issues.”

What’s the Big Idea?

In the past, medicine has been limited in its ability to collect data by the immobility of medical sensors. Physicians have taken reliable health measurements only when patients are ill enough to enter the hospital, making our view of disease rather one-sided. By collecting heartbeat data from a large sample of healthy people, doctors can better establish a control population against which they will analyze heart rhythm irregularities. “I think we’re going to be able to make unbelievably predictive analytics across populations,” says Saxon, who hopes to begin collecting data by 2013. 

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