Alice’s blood pressure is 110/50 right now. That’s a data point. Her blood pressure, untreated, lives around 150/90. She’s prescribed medicine for it, but she ran out last week and doesn’t get paid for a few more days. When she stands up, she gets sweaty and feels like she might pass out.  That’s a bunch of data and a story. Hopefully, the data and the story are given meaning (processed, analyzed, interpreted) by someone with Alice who has medical experience and skills and leads to information about her safety. Alice might have orthostatic hypotension. She probably should sit down, for now, refill her prescription, and get some medical help.

So, the 110/50 (a single data point) doesn’t mean much by itself. Multiple data points + stories, when processed, can lead to information.  Information leads to choices which can result in action. Data and stories about Alice are collected by her, others, and machines. She might be able to interpret data. So can others and machines. Most action taken as a result of information about Alice is done by Alice. She can’t write a prescription, but she can take it. She can sit down and elevate her feet. She can seek medical treatment.

Some people and their clinicians are drowning in data and can’t breathe, let alone learn from that data. My OpenNotes record from my neurologist is full of data. Unfortunately, even as a nurse, I understand very little of the note. I want some simple information from the note. How am I doing? I have a progressive disease that will get worse. Am I getting worse? Five pages of data in a note and I can’t tell.  I asked my neurologist to explain it to me.  He did. Took about three minutes. Turns out the Expanded Disability Status Scale buried on page 4 was the key. I have moved from 5.0 to 5.5 on the scale in the last two years. He used it to support my claim for disability payments.  But wait, that’s not right, I can’t walk 100m without my cane.  Oh, he says, then you’re a 6.0. Worse than he thought, but now we know. That was an example of missing information (for me) and erroneous information (for him). Let’s not forget biased information. That’s a subject for another day.

The person-clinician relationship feeds on a  two-way loop of data, stories, and action about the person receiving care and support. The art for my clinician team members is to help find, share, and interpret data about me and about groups of people like me (old, affluent, white men with Multiple Sclerosis, high cholesterol, food on the table, who have insurance, a home and family), combine them with stories about me, to help me make sense of it all. So I can do something with the information that makes sense to both of us.

So, I still want my DaM Data (Data about Me). But it’s no good without transmogrification (great word!) into information that I can use.

Photo by Gaelle Marcel on Unsplash

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Danny van Leeuwen

About Danny van Leeuwen

Patient/Caregiver activist empowering people as they travel toward best health

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