The emergence of mobile apps and devices that enable us to track our activities, calories and vital signs (and even share this data with others) can be used to modify our behavior for improved outcomes. This so-called “Quantified Self” movement is not a new concept by any means, but the technology to do so has become accessible on a much larger scale–as we saw with the FitBit vs. Jawbone UP review.
With the innovations in mobile technology and the growth of smartphone and tablet users, the ability to track these inputs is available to anyone who owns one of these devices. As it applies to improving health, the goal of Quantified Self will be allowing your physician to run a diagnostic check on all variables of your physical health at a particular moment, similar to how auto mechanics run a diagnostic of your car’s computer when you bring it in for regular maintenance or an unscheduled repair.
Self-tracking our own health data can encourage preventive rather than reactionary medical visits, enabling routine maintenance of our bodies to prevent a major health crisis from occurring.
A recent report by Wired suggests that tracking data also helps to modify behavior by providing an instant visualization of personal output, encouraging us to improve outcomes.
“The basic premise is simple. Provide people with information about their actions in real time (or something close to it), then give them an opportunity to change those actions, pushing them toward better behaviors.”
The data collected provides information, and if we can connect the information from separate data points together, it becomes knowledge. Self-tracking brings that knowledge to the individual. There are constantly new reports with data about health risks endangering the human population, what causes certain diseases, and how humans can improve their chances of staying healthy. Yet, the risk of it affecting us individually seems minimal if it isn’t personalized. When the data behind these prescribed risks comes from our own self-tracking, the impetus to change our behavior is much more compelling.
One of the main critiques of self-tracking or the Quantified Self movement is that it requires too much time and effort to consistently record data about our health. That makes it the goal of mHealth developers to create simple tracking applications that passively collect information or require very little effort. If successful, not only will these applications provide more accurate data, but recording that data will be sustainable long-term, allowing patients and doctors to gain a greater understanding of their overall health than previously possible.
Challenge: Try tracking your health habits for at least a week before you schedule a medical appointment (or at the first sign of getting sick) to see if the data helps you and/or your doctor get a more accurate picture of what’s going on inside your body.