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Health Data Tracking Is Creeping Into Professional Sports

Posted on October 27, 2017 I Written By

Anne Zieger is a healthcare journalist who has written about the industry for 30 years. Her work has appeared in all of the leading healthcare industry publications, and she's served as editor in chief of several healthcare B2B sites.

Pro athletes are used to having their performance tracked minutely, not only by team owners but also by legions of fans for whom data on their favorite players is a favored currency. However, athletic data tracking has taken on a shape with the emergence of wearable devices.

For example, in spring of last year, Major League Baseball approved two devices for use during games, the Motus Baseball Sleeve, which tracks stress on elbows, and the Zephyr Bioharness, which monitors heart and breathing rates, skin temperature and sleep cycle.

In what must be a disappointment to fans, data from the devices isn’t available in real time and only can be downloaded after games. Also, clubs use the data for internal purposes only, which includes sharing it with the player but no one else. Broadcasters and other commercial entities can’t access it.

More recently, in April of this year, the National Football League Players Association struck a deal with wearables vendor WHOOP under which its band will track athletes’ performance data. The WHOOP Strap 2.0 measures data 100 times per second then transmits the data automatically to its mobile and web apps for analysis and performance recommendations.

Unlike with the MLB agreement, NFL players own and control the individual data collected by the device, and retain the rights to sell their WHOOP data through the Players Association group licensing program.

Not all athletes are comfortable with the idea of having their performance data collected. For example, as an article in The Atlantic notes, players in the National Basketball Association included the right to opt out of using biometric trackers in their latest collective-bargaining agreement, which specifies that teams requesting a player wear one explain in writing what’s being tracked and how the team will use the information.  The agreement also includes a clause stating that the data can’t be used or referenced as part of player contract negotiations.

Now, it’s worth taking a moment to note that concerns over the management of professional athlete performance data file into a different bucket than the resale of de-identified patient data. The athletic data is generated only during the game, while consumer wearables collect data the entire time a patient is awake and sometimes when they sleep. The devices targeting athletes are designed to capture massive amounts of data, while consumer wearables collect data sporadically and perhaps not so accurately at times.

Nonetheless, the two forms of data collection are part of a larger pattern in which detailed health data tracking is becoming the norm. Athletic clubs may put it to a different purpose, but both consumer and professional data use are part of an emerging trend in which health monitoring is a 24/7 thing. Right now, consumers themselves generally can’t earn money by selling their individual data, but maybe there should be an app for that.

NBA Implements Cerner EHR – NFL Implements eCW

Posted on December 17, 2012 I Written By

John Lynn is the Founder of the blog network which currently consists of 10 blogs containing over 8000 articles with John having written over 4000 of the articles himself. These EMR and Healthcare IT related articles have been viewed over 16 million times. John also manages Healthcare IT Central and Healthcare IT Today, the leading career Health IT job board and blog. John is co-founder of and John is highly involved in social media, and in addition to his blogs can also be found on Twitter: @techguy and @ehrandhit and LinkedIn.

Over the past couple weeks, a number of major athletic organizations have announced that they’re standardizing their healthcare documentation using EHR software. The NBA is using Cerner’s EHR and the NFL is using eCW’s EHR.

At first blush these announcements remind me of Walmart selling eCW at Sam’s Club and Costco selling Allscripts EHR. Everyone wondered why Costco and Sam’s Club were selling EHR. The obvious answer was that it was a great PR move by eCW and Allscripts. Although, I did hear about one doctor that hijacked an EHR selection process thanks to a Costco mailing. I think that’s the exception.

While big popular sports organizations like the NBA and eCW might be great PR for a company, it is really interesting to consider the unique healthcare needs of a sports league. The first thing that came to my mind was actually whether the teams would want to have their athletes’ health data on one platform. Often, the health of their players is part of their strategic advantage. Certainly there are a lot more rules about disclosure of injuries, but teams still play the injury card before games, in trades, and when signing new players. I imagine the staff doctors for the teams have to be careful how and what they document in the EHR if it’s going to be available to other teams. And we thought privacy was an issue in general EHR use. It’s much more complicated when you have millions of dollars riding on a player.

From a big data perspective, I’m interested to see if either of these leagues will be able to leverage the EHR data they collect in order to deal with the long term health issues of players. This is particularly true in the physically brutal NFL. I’m sure readers are familiar with the long term concussion questions and research that’s happening with the NFL. Not to mention the ongoing battle against the use of steroids and other performance enhancing drugs. Can a unified EHR help to provide a basis for research and understanding of the health consequences of playing in the NFL?

When I start to think about all the medical devices that are coming out, they’re really interesting in an NFL context as well. Imagine all the health data from various devices being sucked into the league’s EHR. When I talked with FitLinxx at the mHealth Summit, they said that the Boston Red Sox used their activity tracking device the year they won the World Series (Seems like Boston might want to consider using it again). From what they described, The Pebble (their activity tracking device) was a great way for the trainer to keep track of compliance with the fitness regiment they suggested. Should this data be in the league’s EHR? I can see health reasons to do so, but it does go back to the question of teams’ competitive advantages.

I bet device makers would love to compare professional athlete’s use of their devices against all of the other data that’s being collected by regular users. Would make for some pretty compelling charts if I could compare my health indicators against Lebron James or Peyton Manning.

What’s also interesting to consider about a major sports league using an EHR is a connected PHR. In these situations you want your players to be well connected to the doctor and you have a real financial interest in their compliance with doctors orders. PHR in this case could make a lot of sense. Although, I wonder if many prima donna athletes would balk at the idea. Well, at least they can have their agent or assistan log in for them.

I do wonder what special features Cerner and eCW were asked to do for the NFL and NBA. Of course, not much of it would likely be useful for the rest of us.