Salesforce announced a new initiative today that aims to provide a “panoramic view of the patient” by aggregating data from EMR, devices and “other” sources.

I’ve always enjoyed the varied usage of the word “aggregation” that I see in the media.  Let’s refresh ourselves on what this word means in the general sense before we think about what this means in a medical context.

Data aggregation is the process where raw data is gathered and expressed in a summary form for statistical analysis.

Some examples of aggregation include performing real time analytics on a HL7 v2 feed (see for example, ExtraHop), or using google maps and CMS data to create heat maps showing chronic disease rates vs available medical services (University of Florida’s Diabetes Center of Excellence).

When we talk about aggregating patient data to create a panoramic view of the patient I immediately come back to Eric Topol (@EricTopol) who has written extensively on the topic.    I recommend “The patient will see you now” (here’s the NYT review) for it’s stunning set of predictions about the role of patient data in unseating the paternalism of the medical institution, or “The creative destruction of medicine” for it’s views about how a doctor will be able to see a holistic, real-time view of the patient.

When you read Eric’s work a clear message resonates – collecting and sharing raw data is not enough.  Data must be incorporated into a useful form of information that can be understood by physicians and patients.  So what if you have your genome?  Only a very small percentage of the data can be used for decision making.  BTW – I still donated my genome to Harvard’s “Personal Genome Project“.

And this is where I think the SalesForce announcement falls a little short.  Even if they can gather data from “any source”, and SalesForce becomes the Intuit Mint of HealthCare data, the data itself is so voluminous and the information so sparse that I’m not sure what they’ll do with it.  Big data is fabulous – if you have the data scientists to analyze and interpret it.

So, what is SalesForce actually trying to do?  Perhaps they are attempting to beat Apple and the other wearable companies such as Vladic before all the data is gone?

My view is that SalesForce is not really aggregating data per se, rather, they are collecting data, and exposing that to their force partners together with an analytics toolset.  In essence, they are staking a claim to patient data and hoping that by opening data to a wide audience, clinical information will emerge.

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