A key element of preventive medicine is provided by patients who are monitoring their own health status (see: Health-Monitoring Devices Market Outpaces Telehealth; "Check Engine Light" for Health Surveillance on Our Smart Phones). Who is better qualified to assume such a responsibility than the patients themselves? This means that they will become more aware of, and seek to correct, problems such as a suboptimal diet, excessive drinking, inadequate sleep, and excessive body weight. This self-monitoring process is now being facilitated by various types of sophisticated devices and apps, both standalone and connected to smartphones. I came across a recent article directed at physicians that referred to such patients as self-trackers (see: Your patient might be a ‘self tracker’, analyzing their personal health). Here is an excerpt from it:
A growing number of people are keeping data about themselves with hopes of improving their health. These are not people who necessarily have any knowledge or training in medicine, but rather normal people from all walks of life.... Naturally, the emergence of self-tracking lends itself to the emergence of all sorts of apps to help make data storage, tracking, and analysis easier. When retired advertising executive Jon Cousins was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, he found tracking his mood helped to diminish the depression he experienced. He developed his own system for tracking his mood as he found the ones available to be inadequate. Today, Cousins’ system is an app called Moodscope that boasts 33,000 users. Jules Goldberg realized he had use for self-tracking when his wife became fed up with his snoring. He developed SnoreLab, an app for the iPhone, to assess which snoring remedy works best for you....While it has been suggested that medical researchers could use data from these types of self-tracking applications, there are a few issues that make this tricky. Patients are relied upon to provide data themselves and there are no controls. Beyond that, the extent to which placebo affects patients’ outcomes is difficult to assess due to the fact the patient is both entering and analyzing the data as they go along. At the end of the day, there is a growing population out there that believes self-tracking helps make them healthier and happier. Maybe there is a positive placebo affect to this in itself — meaning phenomenon will continue to grow and the number of resources will also continue to grow. For healthcare providers, this means patients are paying more attention to their own data. This is potentially more useful for physicians that have access to much more data about their specific patient. Physicians also need to understand their patients are not experts and will need more help to understand this wealth of information at their fingertips.
I am having a little trouble accepting the term self-tracker used in the article quoted above. Even the term self-monitor seems somewhat inadequate to me. The reason is obvious in the article, which states: self-tracking lends itself to the emergence of all sorts of apps to help make data storage, tracking, and analysis easier. Physicians will be asking patients to engage in a number of these processes and then changing their behaviors to improve their health. In short, they will be asked to do much more than simply data tracking or monitoring. Perhaps we need some new acronym for this process such as health monitoring, analysis, and management (HMAM). Regardless of what we choose to call it, this new approach will have a considerable effect on healthcare in the U.S., starting with IT-savvy consumers followed by adoption by a broader swath of society.