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Self-Tracking: Measuring & Collecting Personal Data To Improve Peoples’ Heath

Jeffrey Norris wrote an interesting summary article on self-tracking based on talks presented at the MedX conference 2012 at Stanford University.

Self-trackers are using these tools to monitor sleep, food intake, exercise, blood sugar and other physiological states and behaviors. In some cases, they are using the data to identify what triggers or worsens flare-ups of chronic health disorders on their own, or with the help of an online community. In others, patients are even working together with physicians and scientists to conduct experiments, pooling their data for analysis that may shed light on the cause or best treatment for their disease.

Already 60 percent of U.S. adults are tracking their weight, diet or exercise routine; one-third of adults are tracking some other indicator or symptom, such as blood sugar, blood pressure, headaches or sleep patterns; and one-third of caregivers are monitoring health indicators for loved ones, said Susannah Fox, associate director with Pew Internet.

According to an upcoming Pew Internet and California HealthCare Foundation report, 34 percent of self-trackers said their data collection had affected a health decision; 40 percent said they asked their doctors new questions or sought second opinions as a result of self-tracking; and 46 percent said self-tracking changed their overall approach to health.

Paul Abramson, MD, said:

Self-tracking may not be for everyone, but it may be especially helpful for those who are diagnosed with medical problems for which conventional treatment typically offers little benefit; for those with symptoms and syndromes that are not adequately diagnosed through conventional medicine; for those who want to change their behavior; for those who want to identify environmental, dietary, contextual or social contributors to their symptoms; or for those who simply want to be more involved in their own health care.

In his private practice, Abramson has brought in co-workers he calls “quant coaches,” expert peers who can help patients identify and achieve self-tracking goals and who can work together with the physician and patient to help solve medical problems, such as irritable bowel, chronic fatigue, depression, psoriasis, addictions, diabetes, anxiety and headaches and non-cardiac chest pain.

Ida Sim, MD, PhD, said:

Clinical researchers have long depended on imperfect responses to patient surveys and self-reporting for many research studies, and clinicians also typically rely on reports from their patients in managing chronic disease. If mHealth tools help motivate patients and make it easier to track indicators and symptoms, then these tools are likely to improve the information physicians and researchers receive, presenters noted.

There are three uses for the data, Sim said. First. patients needs to be able to figure out if their self-experimentation is working. Second, physicians want to know how their patients are doing on a new treatment without having to wait months, or may want to provide encouragement, or modify dosages. And third, the data can act a research evidence to generate knowledge about what works, in which context and for which people.

There is a lot of potential. “Physicians often are unaware of patients’ self-tracking activities.”

Only about 11 percent of adults are using health apps – a rate that’s leveled off since 2010 – while the other self-trackers are employing low-tech methods such as paper and pencil.

Keep reading (Original article by Jeffrey Norris was published on Ucsf.edu)

See also:

Quantified Self: Self Knowledge Through Numbers

Image credit: TrendOne Blog

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