The 2017 Health Technology Word of the Year

“Complicit” was Dictionary.com’s word of 2017, which however fitting or not, no one felt good about. Oxford dictionary selected “youthquake” (try to wrangle that into a conversation) and Merriam-Webster picked “feminism.” I’m not sure which, if any, of these words capture the 2017 zeitgeist better than the other but it did get me thinking of what word or term might sum up the year in health technology?

I made a pet out of the neologism “digital exhaust” last year. The term has several meanings, but under the lens of health technology, refers to the vast amount of unused data generated by biomedical devices; imagine a cloud of ones and zeros, binary code, vanishing away like a plume of smoke from an old car’s tailpipe. Digital exhaust is often the needed fuel to feed big data analytics.

“Predatory journal” could be a candidate, the “fake news” of academic research. Well reported on by Nature, predatory journals are hindering scientific advancement by promulgating low quality studies and erroneous information. Sad.

The derogatory “EMR-centric” is another 2017 favorite, implying limited and antiquated thinking that caters to EMRs and the basic information entered into patient records. EMR-centrics placed several tall hurdles on the road to interoperability, predictive analytics and data access.

But if forced to choose a health tech word for the year, I’d nominate “black box”. In tech, a black box is that mysterious system where data is inputted and something is outputted, but the reason for the output isn’t understood. Black boxes are the self-learning machines powering much of the machine learning and artificial intelligence technologies widely touted and hyped last year.

I think 2017 health technology is a bit of a black box, despite all the technical advancements in virtual and augmented reality, major efforts to increase medical data sharing and interoperability, wearables and biometric monitoring device proliferation, and artificial intelligence, widespread adoption of these technologies remain to be seen. Cybersecurity challenges, data quality and accessibility, usefulness, cost, and other obstacles abounded last year. We’ve all just lived the input of 2017 health technology, I’m excited to see what the black box produces in 2018.