Self Tracking: The Next Big Thing in Healthcare?

January 12, 2012
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Monitoring personal data for better healthcare

The wide availability of smart phones and the ever-growing number of apps (many of them free) that are accompanying them, has certainly put more tools for self-improvement than ever in the hands of everyday users. I believe that this is one area that this is having a profound impact is in healthcare.

I recently had a conversation with Jason Taule, who is the corporate information and security officer in the Civil and Health Services Group of Falls Church, Va.-based CSC. He made the observation that many patients, as consumers, want to take a more active role in their own healthcare, and have come to expect more accurate and timely data about their health. Taule directed my attention to the Quantified Self, a blog and community site for people who can be described as “self-trackers,” and who use computers and other personal electronic gadgets to measure various data points in their lives, and share apps, tips and methods with each other.

One person who has explored this trend in self-discovery is Emily Singer, biomedicine editor for Technology Review, who writes a blog on “tools and trends in self tracking.” Her blog looks at how people are monitoring their personal metrics and using that information to make healthier choices in their personal lives. In her blog posts, she has described her experiences with various tools. One example is Fitbit, a device that she used to measure data including blood pressure and calories she burned during a typical workday; the information is recorded on an online dashboard.

That’s just one small example of an important trend taking place on the “consumer” side of healthcare. As Taule noted, the physician will still play a major role, and the patient will want to avail himself or herself to the provider’s expertise; but because of personal communication technology, the  patient is no longer playing a passive role in the patient-provider relationship.

As I learned, leading hospitals are moving forward on laying the groundwork for better communication between patient and caregivers by implementing patient portals as part of their electronic medical record systems. Some patients are using portals in modest ways, to make appointments or check their medication lists or allergy lists, for example. More to the point, the availability of patient portals, personal communication devices and useful apps has opened up new possibilities for a much richer interaction between the physician and a more informed patient.

More on this trend will appear in the Secure Messaging feature in the February issue of Healthcare Informatics.
 

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