Whether they have chronic ailments like diabetes or just want to watch their weight, Americans are increasingly tracking their health using smartphone applications and other devices that collect personal data automatically, say health industry researchers.
“The explosion of mobile devices means that more Americans have an opportunity to start tracking health data in an organised way,” said Susannah Fox, an associate director of the Pew Research Center’s Internet and American Life Project, which was to release the national study Monday. Many of the people surveyed said the experience had changed their overall approach to health.
More than 500 companies were making or developing self-management tools by last fall, up 35% from January 2012, said Matthew Holt, co-chairman of Health 2.0, a market intelligence project that keeps a database of health technology companies. Nearly 13,000 health and fitness apps are now available, he said.
The Pew study said 21% of people who track their health use some form of technology.
They are people like Steven Jonas of Portland, Oregon, who uses an electronic monitor to check his heart rate when he feels stressed. Then he breathes deeply for a few minutes and watches the monitor on his laptop as his heart slows down.
“It’s incredibly effective in a weird way,” he said.
Jonas said he also used electronic means to track his mood, weight, mental sharpness, sleep and memory.
Dr Peter A Margolis is a principal investigator at the Collaborative Chronic Care Network Project, which tests new ways to diagnose and treat diseases. He has connected 20 young patients who have Crohn’s disease with tracking software developed by a team led by Ian Eslick, a doctoral candidate at the Media Lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Data from their phones is reported to a website that charts the patients’ behaviour patterns, said Margolis, a professor of pediatrics at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital. Some phones have software that automatically reports the data.
Patients and their parents and doctors watch the charts for early warning signs of flare-up symptoms, like abdominal pain, nausea and vomiting, before the flare-ups occur. The physicians then adjust the treatment.