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"Microsoft Finds Cancer Clues in Search Queries" NYTimes, June 6, 2016. John Markoff.
The big take-away isn't pancreatic cancer. Actually, there are two. First of all, this comment about one of the paper's co-authors -- "Dr. White is now the chief technology officer of health intelligence in a recently created Health & Wellness division at Microsoft." Isn't Microsoft a computer software company? And, in a related questions, what's Apple doing with HealthKit and CareKit?
The fact that Bing can crunch a lot of numbers over a lot of people is very useful (remember Google's flu predictions based on searches?). But the key is that in order for people to do these searches, they had to have a question or a concern. Can we bypass all the big data stuff to get the patient with some vague question or unease directly to relevant information?
Perhaps the answer isn't big data -- it's small data such as the data and massive data manipulation power that people are carrying around in their pockets. A transition is under way from institution-centered data (see hospitals's patient portals, regional portals, insurance companies, and the like) to patient-centered data (see CareKit). We don't need a lot of data -- we just need the right data, and increasingly, it's in the patient's hands (pocket, whatever) and it's always available because people know where their phone is even if they haven't got a clue how to navigate the myriad of institution-centered databases in which they might participate.
Personally, I have high hopes (very high hopes -- fingers crossed) for the details of CareKit at WWDC next week so that we can connect the person with the relevant information by way of computing power and communications rather than sorting through enormous amounts of data. We may be watching one of those big changes where everything falls into place.