June 4, 2013

The Self-Tracking Data Explosion

Susannah Fox will be part of a panel on self-tracking at the Health Datapalooza in Washington, DC. Her fellow panelists include Naveen Selvadurai, a co-founder of Foursquare; Roger Magoulas, the director of market research at O’Reilly Media; Jodi Daniel, director of the Office of Policy and Planning at the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology; and Abdul Shaikh of National Cancer Institute’s Health Communication and Informatics Research Branch.

She will present findings from the first national survey data on the topic, a summary of which follows:

60% of U.S. adults say they track their weight, diet, or exercise routine.

33% of U.S. adults track health indicators or symptoms, like blood pressure, blood sugar, headaches, or sleep patterns.

12% of U.S. adults track a health indicator on behalf of someone they care for.

Added together, seven in ten U.S. adults say they track at least one health indicator.

Since some people track more than one aspect of their health we asked respondents to think about the health indicator they pay the most attention to, either for themselves or someone else, and to tell us how they track it:

  • 49% of trackers say they keep track of progress “in their heads.”
  • 34% say they track the data on paper, like in a notebook or journal.
  • 21% say they use some form of technology to track their health data.

Specifically, in regards to technology:

  • 8% of trackers 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.

Multiple responses were accepted, but further analysis shows that 50% of trackers record their notes in some organized way, such as on paper or using technology, and 44% of trackers keep track solely “in their heads.”

Some say tracking produces results:

  • 46% of trackers say that this activity has changed their overall approach to maintaining their health or the health of someone for whom they provide care.
  • 40% of trackers say it has led them to ask a doctor new questions or to get a second opinion from another doctor.
  • 34% of trackers say it has affected a decision about how to treat an illness or condition. 

People living with chronic conditions and caregivers are more likely than other adults to track health indicators, more likely to track in a formal way, and more likely to report that it has had an impact on their health.