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How I Became Part of the Quantified Self Movement

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Do pharmaceutical companies need to pay attention to the new Quantified Self movement? Originally published on pharmaphorum.com, Jim Dayton shares his personal views on the increase in keeping track of one’s own health data, known as the Quantified Self movement, by using medical devices and mhealth apps.

I am part of the Quantified Self movement. Which means: I am a person who believes that tracking one’s own data, health and wellness, activity or otherwise, leads to better overall health. I can’t say that it works for everyone, but it’s worked for me. I am truly a healthier person due to my data tracking.

So, how did I find myself in this group of self-help data junkies? The short answer is, nearly two years ago I stepped on a scale and was completely appalled by what I saw. And, frankly, that’s all it took. I saw a single piece of data that so frightened me I changed my entire lifestyle. And to me, that’s what the Quantified Self movement is all about — not being afraid of obesity, but seeing the data. In my opinion, there is no better motivator than seeing the raw, sometimes painful, numbers and knowing you can change them.

Although I say I am part of the movement, I am not on the extreme end of the Quantified Self spectrum. I am not collecting every piece of data about my body that I possibly can. I’m not sending blood, urine or bowel samples off to labs to get them analyzed on a weekly, or even monthly basis. I don’t own a glucose meter or blood pressure cuff. I don’t wear a heart monitor all day. I’m not managing complex datasets that quantify my emotions. I’m not criticizing people who do, I’m simply not that advanced. I am collecting data through wearable devices like the Fitbit and Nike+ Fuelband, and manually entering data into mobile apps like GoMeals.

The data

Again, for me, it’s all about seeing the data. And more importantly, seeing the trends in the data I’ve collected. I’m not as concerned about the actual numbers all the time. Some things I want to trend downward, like weight. Other data points need to trend upward, like daily activity score. And others need to stay constant or within a range, like average heart rate. The data trends I see are my motivation. It gets me out of bed every morning knowing that my run is going to move the needle on my activity score or possibly push my weight down another pound.

Of course, there is other data that motivates me as well. I constantly watch the delta between my calorie intake and my calorie burn. I try very hard to keep that number constant. And it is hard. I am human after all, and we’ve just had the holiday season. Fast food is definitely easier when my wife and I are out shopping for gifts. And there’s not enough activity in the world that could counteract my large Thanksgiving dinner including two kinds of pie. But that’s the thing about seeing the data. I can see my strengths and my weaknesses. And I have to adjust my lifestyle to get the results I want.

The devices

In the interest of time, I’m not going to review the various wearable health devices on the market. According to ABI Research, there were 21 million devices in the market in 2011, and they predict there will be 169.5 million in the next five years. I will say that there are some cool things being done at companies like Misfit Wearables and Basis. And, as marketers, we should all take note of what’s going on with this trend.

My personal favorite device is Fitbit. To me, it is the gold standard of wearable activity monitors. I’ve tried a number of devices and I’m sure something will come along to take the place of my Fitbit at some point, but for today it is tops. It’s easily concealed. It’s easy to sync with my other data. And, it has an open API. Okay, that last one only matters if you are a software or web developer. But the point is that it integrates across the tools I use to measure my health and wellness. It doesn’t get in the way of my lifestyle. It just does what I need it to do.

Why pharma should care

It’s true that the Quantified Self movement still isn’t mainstream. Today, pharma generally doesn’t have to cater to people who are tracking even the small sliver of data that I collect about myself. But, that’s changing. Insurers are giving discounts based on health and wellness data. People are demanding better ways, passive ways, to track their own health data. And technology start-ups (and some big name brands) are answering the call.

Pharma has an opportunity to take some cues from the Quantified Self movement and wearable device market. People want to be healthy. People who are already on treatment are starting to expect the companies that manufacture their drugs to take a bigger stake in their overall health. And every pharma company I’ve spoken with for the last five years says they want to contribute to peoples’ health. To me, that sounds like a match made in heaven.

Check out more blog posts by Jim Dayton here.

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