Hi! Can I get your Number?
If you have ever played online multiplayer games such as Battlefield 3, you can easily keep track of your characters all time statistics such as number of kills, time played, weapons used, and average weapon accuracy, etc. Of course, we would not need to track how many people we killed in real life unless you are Dexter Morgan. According to California HealthCare Foundation (2013), seven in ten U.S. adults track at least one health metric, however, their tracking is often informal; about half of trackers keep track of their progress in “their heads”. But, why stop at health? Wouldn’t our life much easier if we can automatically track our daily life activities? We live in a busy world and we all have other things to do such as playing GTA V that recently came out. We don’t have time to routinely and manually record our daily activities as it is time-consuming. What if I tell you that there are devices that can do this for you?
The term “Quantified-Self” is first used by journalist named Gary Wolf, he defined it as “collaboration of users and tool makers who share an interest in self-knowledge through self-tracking.” It incorporate technology into data acquisition on all aspect of a person’s daily life from calories consumed, mood to sleep quality. The idea of self-tracking is not new; it is widely used by athletes and their coaches who made a “detailed notes on nutrition, training sessions, sleeping and other variables” with intention to improve athletes performance. (Economist) In the “Quantified-Self” lifestyle, people wear sensors and other devices to gather quantifiable data about themselves and use such data to “inform their lifestyle choices and to measure their progress and wellbeing.” (Cullen) Gary Wolf stated that by adopting such lifestyle, we can “reflect, learn, remember and improve” our health and well-being. Cullen stated that “having clear standards and rubrics can help steer us towards healthy habits and make positive lifestyle choices that could be hard to muddle our way through otherwise.”
But, why is it becoming popular recently? What macro-trends are driving this movement?
Rise of Social Media
As people spend more and more time on the internet, social media such as Facebook, and Twitter became a powerful communication tool, where people began to share virtually everything including their daily activities. Humans are social animals and the rise of social media enabled and made it easier for people to share quantified data about themselves – “who doesn’t want to brag the first time they run more than 5 miles or be praised when they’ve managed to lose 10 pounds? ” (Weintraub)
Increased concern for well-being and health
According to Statistics Canada, a significant portion of the world population is now over 55 years of age, especially within North America, Western Europe and China. Due to their increased concern for improving their health and maintaining their lifestyles, this particular group of consumers began to spend a significant amount of money on healthier foods, exercise equipment and supplements. Health and wellness trends such as slow food movement and organic food trends are becoming popular nowadays, which suggests that consumers in general, now more than ever, are looking at “adapting a health and wellness lifestyle in order to prevent diseases and achieve a better quality of life. Many consumers are now using technology to help them shop for healthier products and to help them count their daily calorie intake” (Agriculture Canada)
The rise of behavioral psychology
Old-fashioned psychoanalysis are getting “replaced by behavior techniques, particularly the ‘cognitive behavioral’ methods; these psychoanalysis involves more scientific approach than traditional methods. As Behaviorism gets popular, we see it “seeping into popular culture and awareness….It is also deeply imbedded in the more recent psychology movement, whose influence is all over emotion-tracking tools and other Quantified-Self products.” (Peter)
Advancement of technology
Technological advancement allowed a significant improvement in human biometric sensors and the cost of such sensors are remarkably cheaper to produce nowadays. For example, accelerometer and chip components of popular quantified-self devices such as Fitbit’s wristband and Nike’s Fuelband, only cost just a few dollars.(Wolf) Also, new technologies make it simpler than ever to gather and analyze personal data. For example, most of the data collected by Fitbit’s wristband and Nike’s Fuelband automatically collect data by simply wearing them and data can be easily accessed by making few clicks on personal computers. This makes it much easier to take “quantitative methods used in science and business and apply to the personal sphere”. (Economist)
Uptake and diffusion of Smartphones and mobile devices
Ever since the introduction of the first smartphone, the sales of smartphones have been steadily increased and it is inevitable that smartphones will dominate the mobile markets. Smartphones come equipped with necessary sensors (ie. on-board accelerometer, GPS receiver and gyroscope) and provides easy and ready access to internet, which makes it convenient for users to share their data anywhere. Therefore, without buying additional devices, millions of smartphone users are tracking their daily activities by simply downloading one of the apps available such as Moves app.
Quantified-Self movement is taken seriously by many start-up companies, focusing on inventing and launching new devices and software aimed at self-trackers. One particular industry that is receiving the spotlight from this movement is health care industry. One journalist from The Economist stated that “it may even provide a glimpse of the future of health care, in which a greater emphasis is placed on monitoring, using a variety of gizmos, to prevent disease, prolong lives, and reduce medical costs.”
What are some implications of Quantified-Self movement on health care industry?
New business models rising from this trend are:
Web-based medical diagnostics or Mobile diagnostic applications
The development of sensors allowed patients to constantly monitor their physiologic states such as” heart rate, blood pressure, sleep patterns, blood glucose, oxygen content of the blood, temperature, amount of exercise, and moods” without need to see a doctor. More companies are looking into providing web-based or mobile app-based medical diagnostics. These services are becoming popular nowadays in countries such as United States, where medical service is expensive. The major benefit of this type of services is that patients can collect and share their data; this kind of information from thousands of people are much more powerful when its aggregated and this allows more accurate diagnostics of symptoms. Also, constant monitoring can improve the treatment of chronic conditions more effectively than ever.
There are many companies that offer this type of service; however, Medhelp , and Healthrageous are most well-known. Medhelp is one of the largest online health community and largest databases of self-reported medical data. They offer various tracking software to its users; then, millions of users share their data on the site and provide “mutual help around specific health conditions”. (Medhelp)
Healthrageous is another company that offers similar service. It is founded by physicians associated with Harvard Medical School. They offer machine learning platform along with consumer web app, where users can “make meaningful sense of data being collected from all the various sensor devices such as sensors in smartphones”; many users with hypertension reported that the program proved quite successful at lowering their blood pressure.
Implanted and ingestible technologies
Implanted and ingestible technologies can provide a new and innovative way to constantly collecting data about user’s health and activity, which will allow better diagnoses. It is still very early for implanted and ingestible technologies; however, there are some companies that already developing this type of technologies that can be used in medical diagnoses.
There are many start-ups in this field; however, most noticeable ones are HQ Inc’s CorTemp and Proteus Digital Health’s ingestible pill. HQ Inc’s CorTemp is a ingestible core body thermometer that can wirelessly transmits user’s body temperature to the receiver, which keeps records of user’s temperature. Proteus is in process of developing a safe-to-swallow sensor that can constantly transmits various data such as heart rate to the wearable receiver.
Employee wellness programs
Many companies are beginning to adopt tools that can track employees’ health and activity. Carol McCall of Tenzing Health stated that “by supplementing human interventions with semi-automated systems of tracking and motivation the cost of behavior change could go down, the health benefits to the individuals and the savings to society could be very large” By encouraging employees to adapt to Quantified-Self lifestyle, they hope to reduce the direct costs of health care and indirect costs to companies associated with productivity and absenteeism. New business model rising from this is that company can offer such services (tracking and monitoring employees) for percentage of the amount saved by the customer company( paying partial amount saved from direct and indirect cost to the company that is providing the service).
Although not used widely, some companies are hired by insurance company to constantly monitor and track people who are covered under the health plan to either charge higher premium for living unhealthy lifestyle or offer lower premium for people who are living on healthy lifestyle.
As already mentioned above, quantified athletes are not new idea, it is long been used in sports; however, there is one company that is taking quantified-athletes to whole new level. Orreco provides biomarker analysis for world leading athletes. Orreco has successfully integrated science to improve performance of athletes. Orreco “measure, assess, track, test and monitor” professional athletes on daily basis and integrate this data with their unique biomarker analysis to improve performance and prevent injuries of athletes and they charge a lot of money for it.
Business models at risks due to Quantified-self movement
Traditional way of delivering healthcare(ie visitng doctor's office)
There are now more than 15,000 healthcare applications available for smartphones and more people are relying on using such apps to get diagnosed as it is more convenient and users can avoid long delays in the appointment process. Before Quantified-Self apps, patients had to frequently visit doctors to get monitored and diagnosed for conditions such as high blood pressure; however, apps provide constant monitoring of various health parameters and they can connect patients to doctors without physically seeing a doctor, therefore, number of visits to the doctor’s office is decreasing. Wolfram, the founder of technology company Wolfram|Alpha stated that “data will eventually redefine what doctors do. A doctor would be hard-pressed to make sense of the data once people are wired to track their heart rate, blood sugar levels, blood pressure, and dozens of other measures.” He believes that by using sensor-based data collected, computers will be able to “diagnose far more accurately…and far earlier in the disease process than doctor”
Weight loss industry
The business model that is hit hardest by Quantified-Self movement is weight loss industry. Services provided by weight-loss companies can often cost around 60 $ per month; there are many affordable Quantified-Self devices such as Fitbit wristbands and Nike Fuelband that can provide similar service (sometimes better) for virtually forever (until the device breaks) for the price less than 2 months of subscription fees for companies such as Weight Watchers and Jenny Craig. Fitbit also provide detailed information of what user’s activity on their website and it is also easily accessible from user’s mobile phone. There are also free mobile apps that can offer similar services for FREE! Who would want to pay? When you can get the similar service for free? Therefore, fall of weight loss industry is imminent and even CFO of Weight Watchers knows that, “we feel that some of [company’s declining earnings] are driven by the continued sudden explosion of interest in free apps and activity monitors”
How can Quantified-Self movement apply to another industry?
Companies are working on wearable consumer electronics that comes equipped with self-tracking features. The focus is on other features such as watch, wearable cellphone; nevertheless, they contain sensors that can be used for self-tracking purposes. For example, Samsung’s Galaxy Gear is designed as a SmartWatch that can be used as a supplement device to its mobile devices; however, it still contains necessary sensors that can be used to measure user’s pulse, temperature and record quality of sleep.
Companies can design clothes that are equipped with self-tracking features. For example, clothing line for mountain climbers can be equipped with biosensors that can measure heart rate, temperature and GPS location; so that they don’t get lost and they can be quickly rescued when they are in distress.
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The Quantified Self: Counting Every Moment, The Economist, Retrieved from http://www.economist.com/node/21548493
A Pill That Tracks Your Health? The Reality of the 'Quantified Self' Movement, Huffington Post, Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/joseph-bradley/cisco-quantified-self-movement_b_3907545.html
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All the pictures are taken from Google Image search