NCI sees role for feds in validating, processing wearables data

NCI's James McClain

A program director at the National Cancer Institute (NCI) has outlined his vision for how federal IT initiatives can help healthcare adapt to the rise of wearables and ever larger datasets. The process will begin by identifying the core analytic and IT system components all researchers need, regardless of whether they are focused on cancer, diabetes or other diseases.

James McClain, program director of NCI's Risk Factor Monitoring and Methods Branch, made the comments at a health IT panel session attended by FedScoop. McClain wants NCI to move away from its generalized public health assessment work and commit more time to helping researchers make sense of data in clinical settings. The data processing this entails requires investment in IT and systems infrastructure, but McClain sees opportunities to save money by sharing resources.

"We're all talking about different sorts of data we want to potentially feed to clinical systems. But functionally, many of the components of that are sensible or usable and they are not something that have to be built a hundred times by a hundred different institutes or centers," McClain said. If NCI and other agencies can support healthcare researchers and practitioners by establishing data processing tools--without interfering by trying to standardize them--McClain thinks they can play a useful role.

The comments were part of a discussion that covered wearables and other consumer-grade data collection devices. McClain is cautiously optimistic about the potential of such technologies. "I would say anecdotally, we believe a lot of this works, and we have a lot of faith and confidence and belief. But that doesn't move the process forward as fast as it might," he said. Validation and evaluation of the data are needed, tasks in which McClain thinks the National Institutes of Health could play a role.

- read the FedScoop article