Quantified Self


Hello.  I am Mike Painter, and I track. I don’t necessarily have a compelling reason to track health parameters such as exercise patterns, heart rate, weight, diet and the occasional blood pressure. Yet I do.  I do most of my tracking with several small devices, simple sensors and software applications. My tracking is also pretty social—meaning I share much of my data widely and daily. You’re welcome to see it—most of it is on Strava. Admittedly, I still keep some data daily on a paper calendar, and I do monitor diet and sleep in my head—i.e., nobody needs to remind me about my food splurge days. The local bakery is intimately aware of that data point as the employees witness me charge in, wild-eyed and drooling for a giant cinnamon roll every Thursday morning—almost without fail.

It all feels pretty normal to me.

Here’s the rest of the story: I track to enhance athletic performance rather than monitor my health, per se, or even really my wellness. I am an avid cyclist and have tracked miles, location, accumulated elevation, heart rate and power readings and other data for years. I share that information with both cyclist colleagues I know and don’t know on Strava. That site eagerly ingests my data—and among other things, plops it into riding (and running) segment leader boards, riding heat maps—and, most importantly, in training, trend graphs like the attached. All that data is incredibly helpful to me—it empowers me by making me face the numbers—it makes my training data- and reality-based. I don’t have to guess to maximize my fitness and minimize my fatigue level in anticipation of a big event. I follow the numbers.

Is all that bad? To me, my obsession with tracking my athletic performance seems like an extension of observing data for health and wellness.

Continue reading “Confessions of a Self-Tracker”

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In a world where big data plays an important role of monitoring individual health care and wellness, Health 2.0’s CEO and Co-Founder Indu Subaiya had an exclusive interview with Christine Robbins, CEO of BodyMedia on the future of health care in the marketplace as well as the role of big data. As we all know, BodyMedia was recently acquired by Jawbone – and we’re excited to have Christine joining us on the famous “3 CEOs” panel at the Health 2.0 Annual Fall Conference next week to tell us more about it.

Here’s a preview of what you should be looking forward to.

Indu Subaiya: We’re really excited for the Health 2.0 7th Annual Fall Conference and of course, I’ve been following news about you and BodyMedia over the last two months, which is really exciting. Congratulations on the acquisition.

Christine Robbins: Thank you. We’re on to the next chapter.

IS: That’s just amazing to me because BodyMedia in and of itself has had so many chapters and we’ve followed you almost from the very beginning. But what would be great is [if you could give] us an overview of the last year. When we saw you at Health 2.0 last — what you were beginning to present at the earliest stages, I believe, were data that BodyMedia had collected that could then be used in partnership with health plans and larger healthcare organizations.

Continue reading “Moving Beyond the Quantified Self”

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In the future, implanted chips will have the ability to stop food absorption when caloric intake reaches 2200. Cells in our forearm will be able to monitor our glucose levels and adjust our insulin appropriately. These implantable cells or “chips” have their own IP address with their own circuitry that is connected to a network 24/7. Through this network, cells communicate with real-time super computers to synthesize the next step for an individual’s body. If Dr. Anthony Atala can utilize 3D printers to create a new kidney, then it is only a matter of time before we can incorporate the circuitry within an organ necessary to monitor its function wirelessly.

This was the future I was challenged to paint in my talk at TEDMED 2012 at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, DC. With the conclusion of  TEDMED 2013 last week, I ask myself, where are we one year later?

A caveat: The following are simple overviews on novel technologies I had been tracking over the past year and does no justice to the many amazing leaps we have made in innovative science and medicine during this time.

Continue reading “Do Our Cells Have Their Own IP Address Yet?”

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You’d be forgiven if, after reading last month’s Health Affairs, you came to the conclusion that all manner of wellness programs simply will not work; in it, a spate of articles documented myriad failures to make patients healthier, save money, or both.

Which is a shame, because – let’s face it – we need wellness programs to work and, in theory, they should. So I’d rather we figure out how to make wellness work. It seems that a combination of behavioral economics, technology, and networking theory provide a framework for creating, implementing, and sustaining programs to do just that.

Let’s define what we’re talking about. “Wellness program” is an umbrella term for a wide variety of initiatives – from paying for smoking cessation, to smartphone apps to track how much you walk or how well you comply with your plan of care, and everything in between. The term is almost too broad to be useful, but let’s go with it for now.

When we say “Wellness programs don’t work,” the word work does a lot of, well, work. If a wellness program makes people healthier but doesn’t save lives, is it “working”? What if it saves money but doesn’t make people healthier?

Continue reading “Wellness Programs Aren’t Working. Three Ideas That Could Help.”

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The author in early 2010 and mid 2011

I’ve been thinking about how to write this story for a long time. Should it be a book? A blog? A self-help guide? Ever since I realized I’d lost 60 pounds over the course of a year and a half, I knew I wanted to find a way to talk about it, and maybe help others. This is my first public attempt.

A note about the rounding of my roundness: My peak weight, shortly after I began weighing myself in 2010, was 242 lbs. My lowest weight since I started weighing myself has been 183.2 lbs — right in line with where I should be, at 6’3″ tall. I’m sure that I weighed more than 242 lbs. at peak, but frankly, I don’t care that I don’t have the data to account for those last 1.2 lbs.

Adam Davidson’s New York Times Magazine story, “How Economics Can Help You Lose Weight,” helped organize my thinking about how to finally write this. In his story, Adam explains that the rigid protocol his doctor puts him through acts as a kind of economic incentive for him to stay on the diet. I’m highly skeptical that the special liquid meals he can only buy directly through his dietician will help him keep off the weight. I tried all sorts of diets in the many years that I was overweight and though I never tried the Adam’s solution, it doesn’t sound like a recipe for long term success. At least twice, I lost weight and then gained it all, and more, back. (Meta note: I feel terrible writing that. Adam, I wish you the best. Maybe something you read here will help you keep off the weight you have already lost, and congratulations on that difficult achievement.)

Now that I’ve managed to make weight loss sound simple, and sound smug about my success (I’ve stayed within the 183-192-pound range for more than two years now), what’s my big secret? It’s data. Just like I said in the headline, I keep a Google Doc spreadsheet in which I’ve religiously logged my weight every morning for the last three-plus years, starting on January 1, 2010, when I knew I had to do something about my borderline obesity.

Continue reading “The Data Diet: How I Lost 60 Pounds Using A Google Docs Spreadsheet”

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In January we started asking ourselves, “How many people self-track?”  It was an interesting question that stemmed from our discussion with Susannah Fox about the recent Pew report on Tracking for Health. Here’s a quick recap of the discussion so far.

The astute Brian Dolan of MobiHealthNews suggested that the Pew data on self-tracking for health seems to show constant – not growing – participation. According to Pew, in 2012 only 11% of adults track their health using mobile apps, up from 9% in 2011.

All this in the context of a massive increase in smartphone use. Pew data shows smartphone ownership rising 20% just in the last year, and this shows no signs of slowing down. Those smartphones are not just super-connected tweeting machines. They pack a variety of powerful sensors and technologies that can be used for self-tracking apps. We notice a lot of people using these, but our sample is skewed toward techies and scientists.

What is really going on in the bigger world? How many people are actually tracking?

A few weeks ago ABI, a market research firm, released a report on Wearable Computing Devices. According to the report there will be an estimated 485 million wearable computing devices shipped by 2018. Josh Flood, the analyst behind this report indicated that they estimated that 61% of all devices in wearable market are fitness or activity trackers. “Sports and fitness will continue to be the largest in shipments,” he mentioned “but we’ll start to see growth in other areas such as watches, cameras, and glasses.”

One just needs to venture into their local electronics retailer to see that self-tracking devices are becoming more widespread.

So why are our observations out of synch with the Pew numbers?

Continue reading “The State of Self-Tracking”

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The latest news story to examine the issue of patient access to implantable cardiac defibrillator data (a variation on the theme of “gimme my damn data”) is an in-depth, Page One Wall Street Journal story featuring Society for Participatory Medicine members Amanda Hubbard and Hugo Campos. They have garnered attention in the past – one example is another piece on Hugo on the NPR Shots blog about six months back. The question posed by these individuals is simple — May I have access to the data collected and/or generated by the medical device implanted in my body? — but the responses to the question have been anything but. It is important to note that not every patient in Amanda’s or Hugo’s shoes would want the data in as detailed a format as they are seeking to obtain, and we should not impose the values of a data-hungry Quantified Self devotee on every similarly-situated patient. Different strokes for different folks.

The point is that if a patient wants access to this data he or she should be able to get it. What can a patient do with this data? For one thing: correlate activities with effects (one example given by Hugo is his correlation of having a drink of scotch with the onset of an arrhythmia — correlated through manual recordkeeping — which led him to give up scotch) and thereby have the ability to manage one’s condition more proactively.

We can get copies of our medical records from health care professionals and facilities within 30 days under HIPAA — and within a just a few days if our providers are meaningful users of certified electronic health records (it ought to be quicker than that … some day). In some states now, and in all states sometime soon (we hope), we can get copies of our lab results as soon as they are available to our clinicians.

Continue reading “Dude, Gimme My Damn Data. Seriously.”

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Data, information, interpretation and decision-making are among the vital components of prevention, diagnosis, management and treatment.

The problem we have today is how to gather and manage the data that our bodies radiate.

In order to solve this problem, we have to surmount other problems – which are not just technological but also behavioral, cultural and financial.

But if you want an idea of what an extreme version of data-collection might look like, check out the application Placeme.

Now Placeme is *not* a Healthcare application. What Placeme does do, however, is to continually (in almost real-time) track the places that you visit. No check-ins; no need to enter and data – the application simply runs in the background and does its magic.

When you think about that (from the cultural perspective of today), that’s creepy.

And yet, this “creepy” model is the future. It represents the technological and cultural arc that social software is throwing us. We can fight it (and should in order to flesh out the nuances so we can ensure safety) but in the long-run we shall have to accept the trend and work accordingly.

So think of Placeme in terms of what the ‘Quantitative Self’ movement is attempting to achieve.

Continue reading “PlaceMe: A Creepy Model For Health Information?”

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“If you cannot measure it, you cannot improve it.” Lord Kelvin

“Asking science to explain life and vital matters is equivalent to asking a grammarian to explain poetry.” Nassim Nicholas Taleb

Of course the quantified self movement with its self-tracking, body hacking, and data-driven life started in San Francisco when Gary Wolf started the “Quantified Self” blog in 2007. By 2012, there were regular meetings in 50 cities and a European and American conference. Most of us do not keep track of our moods, our blood pressure, how many drinks we have, or our sleep patterns every day. Most of us probably prefer the Taleb to the Lord Kelvin quotation when it comes to living our daily lives. And yet there are an increasing number of early adopters who are dedicated members of the quantified self movement.

“They are an eclectic mix of early adopters, fitness freaks, technology evangelists, personal-development junkies, hackers, and patients suffering from a wide variety of health problems. What they share is a belief that gathering and analysing data about their everyday activities can help them improve their lives.”

(http://www.economist.com/node/21548493/print)

According to Wolf four technologic advances made the quantified self movement possible:

“First, electronic sensors got smaller and better. Second, people started carrying powerful computing devices, typically disguised as mobile phones. Third, social media made it seem normal to share everything. And fourth, we began to get an inkling of the rise of a global superintelligence known as the cloud.”

Continue reading “Will the Quantified Self Movement Take Off in Health Care?”

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Hospital leaders are busy trying to cope with the changes brought on by the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act and the realization that the federal budget deficit translates into less money for all healthcare providers in the future. The seemingly inevitable transition from fee-for-service to global payments creates anxiety about how quickly the financial incentives will shift.

While the above-described issues are certainly enough to monopolize any busy hospital executive’s time, there are other large-scale changes on the horizon that may impact hospital operations just as much. Leaders who ignore these trends will do so at their organization’s peril.

The important trends include: personalized medicine that concentrates on the individual not the population; the “quantified self” movement with constant remote physiologic monitoring; the smartphone health applications explosion, and the artificial intelligence, healthcare robot movement.

Personalized medicine: Advances in genomics and digital technology are making it possible to shift the focus of evidence-based medicine from the population to the individual patient. Today drug treatment and disease screening follow a one-size-fits-all approach that leads to overtreatment and unnecessary expense. Genetic testing allows us to individualize the treatment for the patients.

For example, about 20 percent of diabetic patients treated with metformin do not respond to the drug, a condition that can be identified by genotyping that is not routinely done today. Likewise, cancer screening by mammography after age 40 in women and colonoscopy after age 50 in men and women does not take into account the different genetic predispositions for breast cancer and colon cancer in individual patients. Two new books should be on every hospital executive’s reading list because they explore the implications for hospitals of personalized medicine: Eric Topol’s “The Creative Destruction of Medicine” and David Agus’ “The End of Illness.”

Continue reading “Four Healthcare Trends Hospital Executives Cannot Ignore”

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Matthew Holt
Founder & Publisher

John Irvine
Executive Editor

Jonathan Halvorson
Editor

Alex Epstein
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Munia Mitra, MD
Chief Medical Officer

Vikram Khanna
Editor-At-Large, Wellness

Joe Flower
Contributing Editor

Michael Millenson
Contributing Editor

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