A fellow patient and avid self-tracker, Christiansen was unsatisfied with his 30-year struggle to control his severe allergies and eczema and the health care system’s approach to helping him. He started self-tracking a few years ago and has recently combined the techniques he developed to monitor his own daily life with his business and systems background, and is launching a mobile and online service, MyMee, later this year. According to Christiansen, MyMee will empower users to uncover the hidden causes of their health concerns in collaboration with their practitioners.
Another patient who spoke at Medicine X, Sean Aherns, used his lifetime of struggling with Crohn’s disease to launch a social health network for patients with Crohn’s and colitis. Aherns believes self-tracking can be used for a greater good. His website, Crohnology.com, lets patients track their health, share data and experiences with other patients, learn what treatments work for others and meet fellow patients who live nearby.
How big is the self-tracking community?
Self-tracking is an important part of participatory medicine, according to Susannah Fox, associate director of digital strategy at the Pew Internet & American Life Project, whose opening remarks kicked off the Self-Tracking Symposium. Fox, who refers to herself as an Internet geologist, studies the social impact of the Internet with a special interest in health. She shared the latest research findings on health care self-tracking with the Medicine X audience:
- Sixty percent of American adults track their weight, diet or exercise routine;
- 1 in 3 use a notebook or journal to track personal health data such as blood pressure, blood sugar or headaches, and 1 in 5 use an app, spreadsheet or other tool;
- 34 percent of self-trackers say their data collection has affected a health decision;
- 40 percent of self trackers say their efforts have led them to ask a doctor a new question or seek a second opinion; and
- 46 percent of self-trackers say it has changed their overall approach to health.
Yet only half of these individuals share their data with their doctors, Fox says. The organizers and participants in Medicine X hope to change that.
The era of the wearable
On days two and three of the conference, the focus shifted from self-tracking to emerging technologies, the networked patients and mHealth (mobile health). An explosion of emerging medical technology is spawning home-brewed health.
According to Sonny Vu, serial co-founder and technology innovator, wearable computing may be the next technology frontier. Already, individuals are wearing a variety of mobile devices to track their health — from continuous blood glucose monitors to pedometers and other shoe-worn products that track distance and gait, to patches and headbands that monitor sleep and smart fabrics that track heart rate. Many of these devices plug into smart phones to display and track results. And many more are in the research and development pipeline.
In addition to helping individual patients, David Van Sickle, PhD, sees another use for monitoring devices — that of improving public health. Van Sickle has spent his entire career stalking asthma. His company, Asthmapolis, started adding chips, sensors and radios to inhalers with the idea of tracking when and where medication is used and putting that information to work. Van Sickle sees the ability of mobile health applications to collect vast amounts of data from smart inhalers as a means of tracking the epidemiology of asthma across millions of users to hone in on its causes and develop disease management solutions.
"I'm more excited than ever about the opportunities in mHealth," he says. "We are building technology that makes it easier for patients and physicians to manage chronic diseases with less effort."
By Grace Hammerstrom