I’ve explained at length the fundamental difference of opinion that I have with Susannah Fox’s understanding of mHealth (at Pew Research it appears that unless you expressly download a Health App to a smartphone it doesn’t count) but the findings from this latest survey about “Tracking for Health” really highlight how some basic errors are being made when we ignore the widespread use of familiar mobile technology for self tracking.
While the report claims that “up until now there has been no measure of how many people engage” in the activity of “Keeping notes on one’s health” and that a “national telephone survey conducted by the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project” has now found that “69% of U.S. adults keep track of at least one health indicator such as weight, diet, exercise routine, or symptom” and “People living with chronic conditions are significantly more likely to track a health indicator or symptom“.
I think the report is a very misleading and it’s little surprise that many readers are already drawing the wrong conclusions from it eg. Eric Wicklund at mHIMSS:
I think a much more accurate conclusion would be that ‘people living with chronic conditions are significantly more likely to tell someone who phones them up as part of a national telephone survey that they keep track of a health indicator or symptom’.
When Pew asked respondents to “think about the health indicator they pay the most attention to, either for themselves or someone else, and to tell us how they track it” I think it’s not surprising that only “21% say they use some form of technology to track their health data” because most of us wouldn’t consider looking at our photo album or our friends commenting on how good we look in a comment on a Facebook photo album as a ‘use of technology to track our health data‘ because we took and shared these pictures for very different reasons (eg. to make a record of an important social/family occasion).
The claim the report makes that “most do not share the data with anyone else” goes out the window when you appreciate the value of photos for health tracking (something that is highlighted when we read about how a critical diagnosis was made from a photo that was socially shared) and the fact that most people in the USA have used Facebook and the most popular activity on Facebook is photo sharing.
I’m surprised that Susannah continues to miss the point that we are already widely using mobile tech and services for healthcare roles. We might think like Susannah that we’re not self-trackers because the only form of measurement we are conscious of is our pair of ‘skinny jeans’ but you’re probably already doing this unconsciously.
If you don’t believe me reach into your pocket and check out your mobile photo albums. Just as Susannah probably has a picture of herself wearing her ‘skinny jeans’ I think it’s probable that most of us have at least one photo in there (if we’re not serial deleters!) that we wouldn’t want to share because it captures us at a bad time and we know we don’t look good in it…