Self-Tracking: Healthcare and Beyond

by Sharp | March 16, 2012

In an article in the Economist, titled “The Quantified Self: Counting Every Moment,” the author summarizes the growing number of people who are gathering and tracking a range of data – from sleep patterns to activity levels, to money spent and caffeine intake – saying:

“What they share is a belief that gathering and analysing data about their everyday activities can help them improve their lives—an approach known as “self-tracking”, “body hacking” or “self-quantifying”.

What was once an activity limited to professional athletes, government entities and corporate consultants is becoming an activity practiced by everyone from technology enthusiasts to dieters to hospital patients, and as I see it, technological advancements are causing two key shifts in this behavior:

  • First, social media integration is encouraging people not just to track their own behavior, but also to broadcast it to friends and extended networks.  We’re able to publicly announce the miles we’ve run, the songs we’ve listened to and the progress we’ve made toward our financial goals.   In some cases (we all that one obsessive public check-in friend), there’s an information overload that clutters our daily communication.  But in others this element of sharing and community actually serves a highly valuable purpose.    People who are losing weight are using sharing as a way to keep them honest and to build a community of supporters who are able to offer encouragement and cheer them along.  Patients battling a range of diseases are able to connect to a patient community to offer support, or keep concerned family members connected to progress.
  • Second, advancements in tracking technology – motion sensors, accelerometers, altimeters and a whole host of “meters” that I don’t understand – are combining with GPS and Bluetooth to drive instantaneous, automatic tracking that no longer requires a user to enter a start and end location or press a button before they fall asleep.  New fitness tools like Nike’s FitBit and the Jawbone Up take advantage of these new technologies and encourage users to set goals to improve their health.  This type of ubiquitous tracking drove buzz and some skepticism at this year’s South by Southwest conference, as “friend finding” apps like Highlight and Sonar let people know who was nearby at any given time.

For brands the expansion of self-tracking behavior opens up opportunities to provide real value and to say top-of-mind for longer periods of time.  Being able to create or sponsor a product that users are viewing and interact with all day and becomes a part of daily life presents huge potential.  Why couldn’t Salomon sponsor the Ski Tracks app, or create their own? Hospitals can white-label these tools to help patients track activity, medicine schedules, etc.  Schools can use these tools to help students keep track of study hours, form impromptu study groups and meet new friends and contacts on campus.  The possibilities are exciting.

As more and more users adopt self-tracking tools and behaviors, it will be exciting to see how technology and opportunity expands from healthcare and beyond.

((image courtesy of The Economist))

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