If Susannah can have her ‘Skinny Jeans’ why can’t the rest of us use the pics we upload to Facebook from our mobiles?

PewInternet Tracking for Health

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:

mHIMSS Pew Survey 7 in10 americans are keeping track health data but few are using digital devices

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…

S Fox I dont consider myself a self tracker

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8 Responses to If Susannah can have her ‘Skinny Jeans’ why can’t the rest of us use the pics we upload to Facebook from our mobiles?

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  4. Real Live Patients often cringe when those around them (online or otherwise) tell them “how good they look”, either in person or online. When well-meaning people say this, it may in fact elicit an “If you only knew..” reaction, either out loud or unspoken. Most non-patients are utterly unaware of the effect that such an observation has on somebody who’s living with a debilitating illness. If I asked my friends to gauge my health status just by looking at my photos on Facebook, I’m sure they would decide en masse that my heart disease had been miraculously cured! More on this at “You Look Great! And Other Things You Should Never Say to Heart Patients” at http://myheartsisters.org/2009/06/01/you-look-great/

    Susannah’s skinny jeans are donned with a specific self-tracking intention in mind: do they fit? have I lost/gained weight? do I need to go shopping? But sharing photos on Facebook does not share a self-tracking for health indicators goal.

    Referring to “our friends commenting on how good we look in a comment on a Facebook photo album” as self-tracking is a bit of a stretch, much like saying that out loud to somebody in person is. Besides the (rare) example of medical diagnosis made via a photo shared on social media, the technology examples you give are not doing health tracking per se based on their intentions.

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  7. Hello again! I have a few reactions to share to this post, which is now a year old. Thanks for resurfacing it in a tweet today.

    I agree with Carolyn’s comment above, but I also take your point that we could add photos to the list of possible tracking activities.

    As you may know, I welcome input on my research, especially when it’s offered in the spirit of collegiality, but even when it’s thrown at me in a cheeky way, such as when Peter Verillo tweeted:

    #baddata @Rock_Health @susannahfox this data is 2 yr old and didn’t mention frequency. A carney guessed my weight once #stilluseascale

    I wrote a blog post in response and started a process of participatory research that led to the formation of the Tracking for Health survey:



    All posts on tracking

    All posts on how I pursue participatory research

    The one line that I can’t let stand is your assertion that I “continue to miss the point” about mobile’s role in health care. I challenge that. I’ve been speaking and writing publicly about the impact of mobile on health for many years. For example:

    Recruit doctors. Let e-patients lead. Go mobile. (2008)

    You may not agree with how we measure the uptake of health apps, or the use of mobile in self-tracking, or the use of mobile in health generally, but to say I miss the point entirely goes too far.

  8. Hi Susannah,

    Thanks for the feedback,

    I’m sorry that you disagree with my opinion but please don’t feel my comment is something personal. I try to fire people up about the mHealth opportunity and perhaps I’m completely wrong in my assertion that mHealth was well established even before we had the ability to download dedicated mHealth apps.

    Hopefully I’ll get put in my place by readers 😉

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