Whether they have chronic ailments like diabetes or just want to watch their weight, Americans are increasingly tracking their health using smartphone applications and other devices that collect personal data automatically, according to health industry researchers.
“The explosion of mobile devices means that more Americans have an opportunity to start tracking health data in an organized way,” said Susannah Fox, an associate director of the Pew Research Center’s Internet and American Life Project, which was to release the national study on Monday. Many of the people surveyed said the experience had changed their overall approach to health.
More than 500 companies were making or developing self-management tools by last fall, up 35 percent from January 2012, said Matthew Holt, co-chairman of Health 2.0, a market intelligence project that keeps a database of health technology companies. Nearly 13,000 health and fitness apps are now available, he said.
The Pew study said 21 percent of people who track their health use some form of technology.
They are people like Steven Jonas of Portland, Ore., who uses an electronic monitor to check his heart rate when he feels stressed. Then he breathes deeply for a few minutes and watches the monitor on his laptop as his heart slows down.
“It’s incredibly effective in a weird way,” he said.
Mr. Jonas said he also used electronic means to track his mood, weight, mental sharpness, sleep and memory.
Dr. Peter A. Margolis is a principal investigator at the Collaborative Chronic Care Network Project, which tests new ways to diagnose and treat diseases. He has connected 20 young patients who have Crohn’s disease with tracking software developed by a team led by Ian Eslick, a doctoral candidate at the Media Lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Data from their phones is reported to a Web site that charts the patients’ behavior patterns, said Dr. Margolis, a professor of pediatrics at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital. Some phones have software that automatically reports the data.
Patients and their parents and doctors watch the charts for early warning signs of flare-up symptoms, like abdominal pain, nausea and vomiting, before the flare-ups occur. The physicians then adjust the children’s treatment to minimize the symptoms.
“One of the main findings was that many patients were unaware of the amount of variation in their symptoms that they were having every day,” Dr. Margolis said.
The Pew survey found most people with several chronic conditions said that tracking had led them to ask a doctor new questions, led them to seek a second opinion or influenced their treatment decisions.
Mr. Holt said self-tracking products and services companies formed the fastest growing category among the 2,100 health technology companies in his database. He said venture capital financing in the sector rose 20 percent from January through September 2012, with $539 million allotted to new products and services for consumers by Sept. 30.
He attributed the rise to a “perceived increase in consumer interest in wellness and tracking in general, and the expectation that at-home monitoring of all types of patients will be a bigger deal under the new accountable care organizations,” as President Obama’s health care law takes effect.
But even an enthusiast like Mr. Jonas said he saw “a dark side to tracking.”
“People who are feeling down may not want a tracking device to keep reminding them of their mood,” he said.
Google Now got an upgrade last week that quietly enabled it to track when a person is walking or cycling. Once a month, a notification offers a summary of those activities to give the user a sense of how much exercise they got.
This feature brings Google Now into competition with Fitbit and other activity tracking devices. Although Google’s once-a-month summary isn’t as rich as the interactive records that Fitbit can provide, the search company’s app can at least tell the difference between walking and cycling, which Fitbit and many similar devices can’t.
One of the most interesting things about Google Now is the way it demonstrates what the company can do when it pulls together the disparate threads of information is has on its users. Combining data holds a lot of potential for offering “life-logging” features to help people understand what they have been doing and what shapes their life—perhaps the activity-tracking feature is just the first step.
The Star Trek world of instantaneous medical information is almost upon us. In those series of shows, it is called a tricorder. In real life, it is shaping up to be called an “app,” We already have tons of stuff that can read and transmit our medical history and even keep track on our vitals. Sure, its not quite there yet but every step counts. Now there is a new player in the market and it uses the magic of smartphones along with the magic of facial recognition software to read our heart rates.
The Quantified Self is a movement to incorporate technology into data acquisition on aspects of a person's daily life in terms of inputs (e.g. food consumed, quality of surrounding air), states (e.g. mood, arousal, blood oxygen levels), and performance (mental and physical). Such self-monitoring and self-sensing, which combines wearable sensors (EEG, ECG, video, etc.) and wearable computing, is also known as lifelogging or sousveillance. Other names for using self-tracking data to improve daily functioning are “self-tracking”, "auto-analytics", “body hacking” and “self-quantifying”.
The history of self-tracking using wearable sensors combined with wearable computing and wireless communication, dates back many years, and appeared, in the form of sousveillance (wearable physiological sensors, etc.) in the 1970s. The term "quantified self" appears to have been proposed by Wired Magazine editors Gary Wolf and Kevin Kelly in 2007 as "a collaboration of users and tool makers who share an interest in self knowledge through self-tracking." In 2010, Wolf spoke about the movement at TED, and in May 2011 the first international conference was held in Mountain View, California.
Today the global community has over a hundred groups in 31 countries around the world.
"Two ventures... are offering tools for accurately tracking mood over time.
... EI Technologies hopes to launch Xpression – an app that uses some of the native features of smartphones to detect when their owners are feeling happy or stressed – to the public once it has trialled it in healthcare settings. It records the speech of users as they go about their day, analyzing the acoustic patterns and looking for attributes – such as pitch, intensity and frequency – that match those commonly found when various emotions are present. Therapists or GPs can then use this information to determine the wellbeing of patients. The recordings can be sent to remote machines that extract the useful data and then delete the files, ensuring privacy.
... At the same time, Soma Analytics has developed its own app aimed at business managers looking to ensure workforce morale is maintained. It uses similar speech emotion-detecting technology as Xpression, which is activated when an employee makes a phone call. Additionally, typing is monitored for speed and errors – a high rate of each could indicate stress. Finally, the smartphone’s accelerometer is used to detect movement at nighttime to determine if workers are getting enough sleep.
... By quantifying emotions, patients and workers alike have access to data about their mood patterns and could be able to work out what events trigger negative feelings. Soma suggests that stress in particular plays a factor in over 60% of all illnesses, and finding the root may improve quality of life, as well as productivity."
Don’t scoff: Breakfast really is important. If you replace it with a cup of coffee (or nothing at all), you’ll eat worse throughout the day than if you had taken the time to pour yourself a bowl of cereal, make some eggs, or even just grab an apple.
Clinton Mohoupt's insight:
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