According to a new report from the Pew Internet & American Life Project, nearly seven in 10 Americans track a health indicator, such as weight or blood pressure.
As we look to the health system of the future, more self-management will be required, and capturing this information and sharing it with a caregiver will be critical for patient-centered medical home models. So seeing people track their health is a good sign. But 7 in 10? That seems out of step with my personal experience.
Let’s look at what Pew means here. From the Tracking for Health report, they found that people who track a health indicator track their weight, diet or exercise routine (60%), track other indicators like blood pressure, sleep or headaches (33%), or tracking health indicators for a friend or loved one (12%).
Furthermore, half of “trackers” chart progress “in their heads.” Only 34% put that information to paper and a spare 21% use technology (I know that doesn’t add to 100% – respondents could pick multiple answers).
So that 7 in 10 includes everything from diabetics with glucometers to weight watchers to anyone at the gym who knows how much weight they lost last week. It’s broad, but at some level more of us are paying attention than we might realize.
And I shouldn’t be so cynical. Respondents with more chronic conditions were much more likely to be tracking (no chronic conditions: 19%, 1 condition: 40%, 2+ conditions 62%), so we can assume that some of that tracking was for those chronic conditions. In addition, more than half of trackers say that tracking has affected their health or how they treat an illness or condition.
Let’s focus in on the 21% of technologically-engaged health trackers:
- 8% use a medical device, like a glucose meter
- 7% use an app or other tool on their mobile phone or device
- 5% use a spreadsheet
- 1% use a website or other online tool
Younger trackers are more likely to use an app (16% of 18-29 year-olds) but older users are more likely to track overall (41% of 65+). Older health trackers are also more likely to use a medical device in their tracking (14% of 50-64 group, 12% of 65+ group), but this is probably due to the chronic conditions that are more prevalent in these populations as much as age-related factors.
This tells me a few things. First, convenience matters. The ability to take the tracking tool with you seems to correlate with greater adoption rates as does having a device that does the tracking for you. Second, health consumers use the tools that their doctors give (or prescribe) to them.
Third, and perhaps more astounding, is that the growth of apps in this space must be very dramatic. We know that SmartPhone adoption has grown at a tremendous pace in the past several years. Couple that with the fact that use of mobile tools for tracking has nearly reached the level of tracking of medical devices (which we’ve had for a long time), and it appears that mobile tracking will be the most significant shifting point in this space.
Convergence of mobile and devices?
We’ve seen substantial growth in the number of connected health tracking devices in recent years. These range from internet-connected bathroom scales, to blood glucose meters that sync through apps on your mobile device, to internet-connected forks that help you manage overeating. In fact, this year’s Consumer Electronics Show dedicated two tracks to digital health.
Devices based in the home, like the bath scale, typically utilize Wi-Fi to sync up data. For devices on the go, however, the growing pool of SmartPhones provide a more reliable tool set to sync data, visualize the data and support self-management.
This allows devices to be smaller and more elegant. Consumers love this. For example, the Misfit Shine, a quarter-sized activity tracker recently raised eight times its goal in a crowd sourced funding campaign.
Coupling better devices and better tools will bring progress, but if these tools are then prescribed by doctors and made part of the care experience for patients, this could be an industry game changer.
One parting bit of data for the analytics geeks out there. Several Pew reports have been released recently. In addition to the Tracking For Health report, there’s also a new version of Pew’s internet healthcare tracking report, Health Online 2013 and, in November, a report on Mobile Health was released.
Let’s pull together a few stats across those reports: