Smart health & smart agriculture – both balance outside influences

Looking at these industries, there are similar data strategy challenges facing both, especially as outside forces and events provide new cross currents.

Data and analytics are crucial to helping achieve both Smart Healthcare and Smart Agriculture.

I'm having a great time, working as a senior data strategist for a Canadian initiative which is essentially asking, "What role should the government play, if any, to create the data and digital infrastructure for Smart Health, Smart Agriculture and other sectors? Can lessons and patterns be applied from highways, power grids, railways, telecommunications and the Internet?"

The Smart Agriculture initiative is particularly fascinating and confirms what I’ve believed for the last couple of years — data strategy and decision-making concepts are very common across domains.

Many commonalities

By taking a 30,000-foot view of these industry segments, it’s not difficult to see how practitioners have the same attitudes and wrestle with common problems.

  • Farmers and physicians love their autonomy — a common thread of thought seems to be, “Don’t bother me, all you suits and execs; just let me do my work.”
  • Small practices and small farms are being acquired by large corporations, threatening their autonomy.
  • They are human-centric -- both contributing to the health of human beings.
  • They are drawn to their profession by a strong sense of passion and pride. Familial history in the profession is very common.
  • They have practiced their profession as an art, but they are shifting to data and predictable, protocol-driven scenarios.
  • They work in environments which are highly variable and difficult to predict, but they are accountable for producing a good outcome, nonetheless.

Similar current challenges

For both of these segments, outside forces are recalibrating approaches to their operations.

For example, public and population health monitoring is to physicians what climatology is to farmers. The horizons are long and the data to inform planning is fraught with confounding variables.

Overprescribing and overtreating has been a problem in both professions, but both are now shifting -- physicians to holistic health and the elimination of low-value care, and farmers to organic and sustainable crops and livestock.

Patients, crops and livestock are all susceptible to epidemics and pandemics.

Both industries operate in an economic model that is highly regulated and subsidized, mixed with elements of free-market capitalism, which complicates decisions and natural market efficiencies.

They both suffer from a lack of interoperable, easily shared data to inform their tactical and strategic decisions.

Their tools and devices are highly automated and digitized, but their assets — crops, livestock and patients — are not.

Genomic farming and ranching is much further along than genomic medicine, but many of the same scientific concepts and cultural concerns are exactly the same.

And, in an 180-degree twist, farms and ranches profit economically from the elimination of diseases and ailments in their crops and livestock. Healthcare systems profit from the continuation of disease and ailments in their patients.

It's very interesting work, and data strategy can help guide both Smart Agriculture and smarter healthcare.

Dale Sanders is a chief strategy officer, executive partner and senior data strategist. Until recently, he served in a variety of roles at Health Catalyst. This column originally was posted by Sanders on LinkedIn.

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