Can digital health win the hearts of self-tracking Americans?Susanna Smith, communications strategist and contributing blogger at Tech urSelf, Inc explains how.
Earlier this week, the Pew Internet Research project released its newest report, Tracking for Health.1 I was excited to see what the survey found, given Tech urSelf’s focus on developing tools to help people track, reflect on, and correlate their life habits with their well-being and happiness.
One of the major findings, which had been previously reported,2 is that nearly seven in ten adults track at least one health indicator. Only one in five trackers, though, use some form of technology to facilitate their tracking. So far, the adoption of health apps has been quite slow and the preference for low-tech self-tracking quite persistent.3
Yet, there is no shortage of companies working on developing the tech tools and gadgets to ramp up tech-based self-tracking. The New York Times article on the latest Pew report quoted Matthew Holt, co-chairman of Health 2.0, as saying “ ‘More than 500 companies were making or developing self-management tools by last fall, up 35 percent from January 2012.’ ”4
Writing for GigaOM, Ki Mae Heussner suggested that “digital health companies need to provide options that can compete with the convenience and familiarity of a notebook or the ease of just remembering information in your head.”5 So the race is on for the technology-driven, tracking tools that are as intuitive and easy-to-use, but more gratifying and motivating, than tracking in your head or in a notebook.
The growing interest and investment in mobile self-tracking tools gives me hope that technology can help people more fully engage with and take responsibility for the health decisions they make every day. Self-tracking clearly has value and changes behavior. The Pew report showed that nearly half of self-trackers changed their approach to their health, or to the care they provided to someone else, after engaging in tracking. Often, after tracking they were more inclined to ask their doctor a new question or to seek a second opinion.6
We think when mobile and digital tools are well built they can have distinct advantages over low-tech tracking. mHealth self-tracking tools can make data portable, saveable, and shareable and can easily incorporate social sharing, which can provide crucial support to people engaged in developing or sticking with the lifelong habits that can help them be happy and healthy.
Tech urSelf’s goal, in developing urWell, is to create a tool that offers people a systematic and comprehensive way to track, reflect on, and correlate different aspects of their lives, not just their physical health.
So to answer our own question: can technology win the hearts of self-tracking Americans? We are betting on yes.
1. Susannah Fox, Maeve Duggan. Tracking for Health. Pew Internet Project. Jan. 28, 2013.
2. Jonah Comstock. Pew: 70 percent of Americans are self-trackers. MobiHealth News. Nov. 2, 2012.
3. Brian Dolan. Three years of stagnant health app adoption. MobiHealth News. Nov. 8, 2012.
4. Milt Freudenheim. More using electronics to track their health. The New York Times. Jan. 27, 2013.
5. Ki Mae Heussner. 70 percent of Americans track their health, but most go low-tech. GigaOm. Jan. 27, 2013.
6. Tracking for Health, p. 14.
Featured image credit: http://mikeyburton.com/Wired-Italia