Just as the progression of online and computational tools now enable people to monitor, track and make course corrections in their financial portfolios, the tools now exist to approach health the same way. Welcome to the "Quantified Self" movement.
That's the view Stephen Wolfram, the scientist and innovator behind Wolfram Alpha and Mathematica, shared at the recent Wired Health Conference Tuesday in New York. GigaOm's Ki Mae Heussner provides an overview and perspective on Wolfram's remarks, in which he described his own self-monitoring regimen, and discussed how this is increasingly shifting more control of healthcare to the consumer.
Ultimately, he pointed out, the power lies in the data -- current tools provide the analytic power to make decisions about their health. To quote Heussner's observations:
"Just like fluctuations in financial data can be symptomatic of a problem with a stock, he said, patterns from personal data from sensors and devices could help alert individuals and healthcare providers to medical problems. A combination of human intelligence, experience and data could be used to diagnose a problem and then algorithmically-determined drugs and devices could be used for treatment, Wolfram added. Already, in a less comprehensive way, that model of data interpretation is emerging to help people manage chronic conditions and achieve specific goals."
The technology that enables this includes self-tracking devices and apps, from dieting to blood pressure, heart-rate and blood oxygen-level monitors to devices that track sleep patterns, and exercise inputs and outputs. Many features are accessible via downloadable apps to smartphones.
A study conducted last year by the IBM Institute for Business Value confirms that wellness devices are increasingly filling the information gap for consumers that are relatively healthy, but need devices that provide information to help them gain greater control over their conditions and lead healthier lives. These devices will plan, predict and monitor information, feeding it directly to caregivers and clinicians as well as support networks. Users will interact with devices on their own terms, and connect them via broadband, wireless and wireline connections. The study also predicts that whether connected online, to a PC, gaming device, tablet or smart phone, wellness devices will become ubiquitous in the future.
The study of 1,300 consumers currently using health and wellness devices also found strong demand to be able to connect with caregivers and reduce office visits, as well as collaborate online with a community of peers with similar issues and interests. And consumers are willing to pay for it. More than one third of current device users surveyed expect to contribute to the cost of new health devices over the next two years while 35% also expect to pay a monthly service fee.
This trend mirrors that of the do-it-yourself trend technology is enabling across the entire economy. From securing resources through the cloud, to collaborating over social networking, to learning via online courses, the DIY economy is driven by self-service, efficiency, and, above all, data. In the healthcare arena, this is also referred to as an important part of the "Quantified Self" movement -- promoting "self knowledge through numbers."