As a heart attack survivor, it’s this third group I’m most interested in. Yet paradoxically, I’m also most cynical about this group’s wholesale adoption of self-tracking. This is because, aside from a small number of tech-savvy types who also happen to be patients (and not the other way around), doctors tell us that the average patient’s adherence (this is the word some enlightened docs use now instead of the offensive noun “compliance”) in keeping track of even the most basic health information is less-than-stellar.
We also know that only 5% of smartphone apps (including health care apps) are still in use within 30 days of initial download. Approximately 26% of apps are used only once, and 74% discontinued by the tenth use. A study last March by the Consumer Health Information Corporation concluded:
“Patients will not use a smartphone app simply because it is innovative or handy. Instead, they want something that is convenient and will help them simplify their health-related tasks.”
Consider also the concerns expressed by Dr. Joseph Kvedar of the Center for Connected Health. He wrote an essay last summer called From Couch Potato to Quantified Self about inherent challenges for health care professionals whose patients are diagnosed with chronic conditions. He starts by bluntly blaming health care providers for failing to create an expectation that patients should take charge of their own health:
“Health care providers have, consciously or unconsciously, given patients the message that once you have a diagnosis, it’s too complex to self-manage.
“Our insurance plans and politicians have a hand in this too by sending out the message that sick people are victims, and health care is an entitlement.”
Dr. Kvedar then cites the distressing example of his own organization’s Diabetes Connect program. Until recently, this promising program involved a device that measured a diabetic patient’s glucometer readings and moved them over a basic phone line to the program’s central database.
“But for a disappointingly high fraction of our patients, the step of plugging in a device to the glucometer, then to the phone line, and then pushing a single button to upload glucose readings was more work than they were willing to do.
“Even the opportunity to see their glucose readings quantified and shared with their health care provider was not enough motivation for some individuals.
“This experience calls into mind several interesting hypotheses about the gulf between the Quantified Selfers and our ‘average Joe’ patients.
“One explanation could be that managing chronic disease can be complex and too overwhelming for some patients to take on anything more.”
Dr. Kvedar thus manages to exquisitely grasp what the QS world may not. In the real world, the world occupied by the cardiac patients I hear from and meet and write about each day, embracing the whizbang technology of tracking our lifestyle data can loom large as yet another task on an already overwhelming To Do list. As a heart attack survivor with ongoing debilitating cardiac issues, I call this the “One Damned Thing After Another” phenomenon.
Quantified Selfers are united by a desire to collect as much data as possible about themselves, ostensibly in order to make informed decisions regarding health, productivity and happiness.
But patients living with a chronic disease diagnosis may not feel quite so united.
And as all data-collectors who seek meaning from data must ask themselves:
“What exactly is the POINT of all this stuff?”
One participant at the first QS conference last year, for example, reportedly logged X-rated information on the number of his sexual partners and duration of sexual activities. Now there’s a frighteningly self-absorbed dinner party guest . . .
Another participant from the U.K. brought along his 12-foot long line graph charting the fluctuations in his mood over the previous year. And a young graduate student described the web tools he used to track his attention span.
Keen on keeping track of your weight? Quantified Selfers can now apparently purchase a Wi-fi enabled bathroom scale that not only automatically tracks your weight, but will even tweet the numbers for your Twitter followers, for those of you who honestly believe that people care.
A technology review published last summer by MIT called The Measured Life – while enthusiastically predicting that “devices to monitor activity, sleep, diet and mood could make us all healthier and more productive” – also warned of the inherent limitations in being able to use Quantified Selfers’ data to actually advance medical knowledge – like about how well we sleep, for example:
“Perhaps the most interesting consequences of the self-tracking movement will come when its adherents merge their findings into databases. Zeo researchers, for example, have already found that women get less REM sleep than men and are now analyzing whether the effect of aging on sleep differs by sex.
“But the database is obviously biased, given that it is limited to people who bought the Zeo; those people are mostly men, with ample income and presumably some sleep-related concerns.”
- Self-tracking tech revolution? Not so fast…
- When does mindfulness become mind-numbing?
- Public humiliation as self-tracking motivation
- Does knowing change behaving?
- Dr. Sherry Turkle: “I share, therefore I am”
- Smartphones make Top 10 Health Tech Hazards list
- Is your life as awesome as you pretend it is on Facebook?
- “Distracted Doctoring” – updating your Facebook status in the O.R.
- News flash: smartphone users obsessively check their devices
- Why some people should avoid social media completely
- Why narcissists love Facebook
- Why you should put the damned phone away
- When the elephant in the room has no smartphone (from my other site, Heart Sisters*
- Seeking Social Solace: Why aren’t heart patients online?*
- How a heart attack turned me into an “Information Flâneuse”*
Q: How have you incorporated self-tracking into your life?