Bringing Silicon Valley to the ICU: My Vision of Data for Good

By Rob Seaman, VP of Product

Any parent can relate to the anxiety of being encharged with a newborn completely dependent on you yet unable to communicate its needs. This worry is amplified when your baby is born prematurely and spends its first few weeks of life in the Intensive Care Nursery hooked up to cardiorespiratory monitors.

Here’s the thing about cardiorespiratory monitors. These devices track a newborn’s heart rate, breathing rate and oxygenation so that nurses can attend to health problems like apnea and bradycardia and parents can rest assured that their kid is okay.

But watching your kid’s heart rate drop and waiting for a nurse to determine if he is breathing is not a reassuring experience.

What if, instead, these monitors could tell parents exactly what each piece of data means for their child, alert them when something is about to happen and empower them with instructions on what to do before the nurse arrives?

Well, I know from years working in the big data industry that it is technologically feasible for these systems to connect to and learn from every single data point about every single child and device. They could even provide notifications like “Hi, Rob. In 30 seconds, your baby’s heart rate is going to drop. You should pick him up and pat his back.” And I know from my experience as the father of a prematurely born child that this would be extremely useful. The technology exists, and it could tremendously impact people’s lives — but we’re not using it.

To give you an idea of the technology I’m talking about, I’ve been working at WibiData on big data applications that collect and apply data in real time, not only to describe what is happening, but also to predict what will happen in the future. Businesses have successfully used our technology to power ecommerce websites and TV recommendations and even analyze how people can reduce their energy footprint. And believe it or not, the recommendation engine that tells our retail clients’ websites “Online shopper X will like this shirt” has the same underlying technology as the hypothetical cardiorespiratory monitor that says “Your baby’s heart rate will drop.”

As you may have gathered from the HBO series, there’s plenty wrong with Silicon Valley. But if there’s one thing our healthcare system can learn from the gentrifiers and hipsters and tech bros, it’s about rapidly experimenting, learning and getting stuff done. Move fast, fail fast, try out new ideas and applications of technologies. Challenge the status quo, discard the past and start anew, recognize barriers that don’t need to exist and then break them down.

Big data applications have already proven their abilities in sectors looking to profit from them. Businesses have long been using their customers’ data to target them with ads and product recommendations. But sectors like healthcare that are less financially motivated to take advantage of big data also could use it to make the greatest social impact. There’s nothing wrong with using data for profit — but we should also be using it for good.

This is part of a blog series inspired by the Data for Good movement describing how WibiData’s leaders envision data impacting society for the better. If you have a story about how your life could have been improved by better use of data or how you see data improving the future, submit a guest post to or tweet to @WibiData with the hashtag #Data4Good.

Rob Seaman is VP of Product at WibiData. He previously held product management and product strategy positions at Siebel Systems, Oracle Corporation and SAP.