Spring is in the air and that means blooming flowers, humid days and for many, lots of sniffles. Seasonal allergy sufferers are acutely aware of the impact weather can have on their condition. But for every allergy sufferer we know, there are likely dozens of others who are equally impacted. All kinds of conditions are affected by changes in the weather. One study found that 53% of headache sufferers identify weather as a trigger for their symptoms. Not to mention the millions of patients with asthma or joint pain who watch the weather forecast with special care aware that fluctuations in temperatures and air pressure can have a significant impact on their illness. Even the common flu can spread more quickly in certain weather conditions, than others. Changes in barometric pressure and humidity, even sharp changes in temperature can trigger all kinds of reactions.
We can’t control the weather, so what’s a sufferer to do? Thanks to growing IBM Watson partnerships, which now include CVS, patients and medical staff can envision a bright future of preventative treatment of chronic conditions. According to the partnership announcement made last summer, “The offering [will] enable health care practitioners to quickly and easily gain insights from an unprecedented mix of health information sources such as medical health records, pharmacy and medical claims information, environmental factors, and fitness devices to help individuals stay on track with their care and meet health goals.”
By combining machine learning with a massive repository of health information in a secure model, medical practitioners will be able to narrowly identify triggers for an individual patient while simultaneously finding new patterns across a wide spectrum of sufferers. The opportunities to offer personalized preventative treatment schedules is boundless when information and processing power are brought together in this manner.
Imagine a not so distant future where we can not only identify triggers for a specific patient’s condition, but also forecast when triggers are likely to occur. In this future environment doctors can prescribe specific protocols that automatically alert patients through text messages, emails even push notifications to personal health devices, such as a Fitbit, to take action.
Let’s look at a specific example; 26 year old Jane was diagnosed with asthma at three years old. Despite daily preventative medication certain triggers still cause a serious asthma attack. After monitoring Jane’s condition her doctors learn that temperatures below 40 degrees and high winds are consistent triggers for Jane’s worst symptoms. Doctors also know that taking a secondary inhaler before the asthma attack can reduce severity or prevent the attack altogether. But this approach only works if Jane takes the additional medication 24 hours in advance of the change in temperature. It’s now possible to imagine a future where medical teams can diagnose triggers at this level of specificity, and prescribe treatments based on localized weather forecasts.
Consider this same approach applying to the treatment of allergies, joint pain, headaches, even heart conditions. Lucky for us, this is not a pipe dream. We’re one step closer thanks to the advances in IBM Watson technology and the budding partnerships forming that collect the critical healthcare data needed to make this vision a reality.