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Tag: PatientsLikeMe

Pills Still Matter

Reviewing “The Myth of The Paperless Office” for the New Yorker in 2002, Malcolm Gladwell argued that if the computer had come first, and paper didn’t exist, someone would have had to invent it.  Paper, it turns out, is a lot more useful than we typically appreciate.

It occurred to me that perhaps the same might be said of another product we seem to take for granted in the digital age – medicines.  (Disclosure: I work at a company that makes them.)

Medicines – you know, those little white pills that everyone loves to critique – are in many cases remarkably effective solutions to very difficult problems; it’s actually kind of amazing how useful some of these products can be.  What an incredibly powerful idea – addressing a difficult and complex health problem with a simple pill you can pop before breakfast.

I read a tweet recently asserting that physicians may soon prescribe health apps as an alternative to medications; my initial reaction: good luck with that one.  It’s certainly easy enough to envision how magical thinking about the power of health apps will soon be replaced by disappointment as app developers realize something drug makers have known for years: it’s hard to improve health, and it can be very difficult to get patients to stick with a treatment long enough to make a difference.

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The Quantified Self and the Future of Health Care

The  Quantified Self is a global collaboration of users and tool-makers interested in the personal meaning of personal data. There are now Quantified Self groups in more than twenty cities around the world. Our inspiration is the Homebrew Computer Club. Once upon a time, computers were thought to be useful only for scientists, managers, and planners. But a few people saw things differently: they argued that computers were for  all of us. That notion seemed very strange. What would an ordinary person do with a computer? But it turned out that the personal uses of computers were not just an important use, but the most important use.

We at the Quantified Self think of data the same way. Nearly every day, we hear about a new system to track human behavior. There is sensor-based tracking of sleepactivitylocationheart rateblood glucosemetabolism, even facial expression. There are web services to track mooddietmenstrual cycleproductivity, and  cognition. (This is just a sample, to give a sense of range, and not an endorsement of any particular approach.) Often, when I talk to my friends in the health care field, they are eager to know how exploring these tools might be justified in conventional health care terms: return on investment, treatment outcomes, patient compliance, etc. This managerial view of data is part of the important conversation that happens every day on the The Health Care Blog. But for the remainder of this post, I’d like to ask you put these questions aside. Seeing something of the big culture change happening outside health care might prove useful for solving some of the seemingly intractable problems inside it.

There are three reasons people track themselves:

They have a specific goal, such as losing weight, keeping fit, sleeping better, ameliorating a chronic condition, or training for an athletic competition.
They are generally curious. Surprisingly often, people find their tracking data valuable even in the absence of narrowly-defined utility. These self-trackers see their data as a kind of mirror on the self, helpful in maintaining overall self-awareness. (Like keeping a diary.)

They want to establish a baseline with which to measure future changes. This often goes along with a belief that the data will become more powerful over time. Personal data, in this sense, is an investment that will pay off in the future, and is part of an exploratory, pioneering worldview.Continue reading…

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