The Quantified Self – the Future of Healthcare?

Do you keep track of the food you eat by counting calories? Or measure the number of steps you take each day, using a pedometer clipped to your waistband? If you evaluate these, or any number of other measurements, then you are part of a movement that is taking the healthcare world by storm. Welcome to the world of the quantified self.

The quantified self, or the idea of gaining knowledge about yourself thanks to self-tracking, is steadily rising in popularity. This is thanks in no small part to the proliferation of mobile technology and apps that make it possible to track even the most minute detail about your body and your life and then make sense of the resulting data. The idea of tracking your own health stats isn’t new – Benjamin Franklin was doing it back in the 18th century.

Now it’s just easier, with smartphones, FitBits, Fuel Bands, and the multitude of others currently on the market. (The Smartphone Physical, which we hosted at both TEDMED and NeoCon this year, is also an example of the quantified self in action.)

We’ve written before about personalized medicine and how mobile health technology is making that easier and easier for doctors and patients to achieve. But the quantified self goes even farther beyond that, because it is driven by the patient and not the other way around. Smartphone apps are becoming more and more the norm in today’s mobile health environment – the stats show, however, that not all apps are created equally. 26% of health apps are used just once, while 74% are discontinued within the first ten uses. 79.9% of respondents to a Consumer Health Information Corporation preferred an app that would analyze the health information they were logging and provide personal feedback. This illustrates perfectly the quantified self movement – the most popular apps are the ones that take the reams of data being collected, and turn it into something easily understood by the patient. If the app is too complicated or can’t handle the data you’re collecting, it’s history.

Larry Smarr, who spoke at TEDMED this year and was featured in a terrific article in the Atlantic in 2012, is at the forefront of the movement. Watch and listen to him reveal how charting his bodily inputs and outputs in minute detail is changing medicine from the outside-in.

Do you subscribe to the quantified self? What is your favorite measurement to track? This post on Technori features some great personal data tools, while Quantifiedself.com is a great online community for self-trackers and people looking to make sense out of their personal data.

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