By Melanie Platten
Personal health tracking tools are providing a new way to look at traditional health care problems. The “quantified self” is a new movement in personal health care encouraging people to feel in control of their own health information. Josh Kotfila, organizer of Boston’s “Quantified Self Meetup” said the organization is a way for people interested in their health to get together and discuss the benefits and trends in health tracking.
Big Data fuels this movement. It allows individuals to collect and aggregate data from many new and different sources. Smart phones reach beyond the scope of clinical trials and access real-time health care data from people’s daily lives. This smart phone data along with advances in data aggregation have the potential to make big advancements in health care.
“The quantifiable self is a movement that has people excited about changing the way we live and practice our own health and wellness,” said first-year Harvard Business School student, Lauren Mackey. She started wearing a Fitbit tracking band a few months ago.
Companies like Fitbit and Basis allow users to monitor information about their fitness and sleep patterns through wearable wristbands and tracking devices; they can download information right to their smart phones.
“Spending on medical devices is down but spending on digital health is up 37 percent,” said Maylay Gandhi, chief strategy officer at RockHealth, a startup accelerator founded in Boston in 2010. “Investors are saying, ‘I want Health IT in my portfolio.'”
Mounting frustrations over current health care policy, costs and access may have some consumers looking for alternative approaches to addressing their personal health care.
Accordingly, there is a movement towards health data outside the traditional medical provider context. A 2013 RockHealth report, shows companies that offer a product that allows for people to track daily fitness and health information have been particularly successful in the first half of 2013.
“It’s more of a longer term, preventative approach,” said Aaron Wurst, a former CVS Caremark employee. He wears the Jawbone UP’s wristband tracking bracelet. “I’m able to take all the information about what I’m eating, how much I’m sleeping, all the information that would be up in my head, is able to be organized and I can look at it and make decisions about how to stay healthy,” he said. Wurst added that he wears the device to “feel in control of my health on some level.”
The use of innovative technology for companies like Basis and Fitbit is welcomed by Zen Chu, health care innovation expert at MIT’s Sloan School of Management. He said he believes traditional approaches to health care are failing. “Engineers and technicians are the fresh set of eyes we desperately need in health care to fix the system from the outside in,” said Chu. “We need that systems change.”
After working for a company that was studying tracking devices from a disease management perspective, Harvard Business School student, Lauren Mackey said she started wearing a new Fitbit to see what the hype was all about. She said she loves the ability to track different aspects of her daily fitness and sleep patterns and compare the data with friends.
But not everyone is buying into the “quantifiable self ” movement that could provide market staying power for digital tracking device companies. “ I’m totally for it but it’s for fun; it’s a game,” said Ed Park, executive vice president and chief operating officer of athenahealth. “It’s for geeks and it’s going to top out at about 5 percent of the population, the ones who play World of Warcraft.”
As consumers look to take a more active role in managing and accessing their health care data, legislators will need to address privacy concerns that accompany such changes. In Spring 2014, the Federal Trade Commission plans to host seminars on emerging consumer privacy issues, on topic up for discussion- mobile device tracking.
Would you wear one? Consumers weigh in