Health: self-tracking is mainstream, using technology isn’t

By February 20, 2013
2 men running on the beach with self-tracking devices

Health tracking gadgets and apps have become seemingly ubiquitous, but they may not be used as much as they seem to be. Despite most people using more traditional means to keep tabs on their health, tracking can empower and influence medical or wellness decisions.


While Quantifief Self has emerged as a major topic in the past couple of years, its adoption depends on the adoption of technology. As recent  Pew Research shows, tracking one’s health is rather mainstream, with about seven out of ten US adults practicing this habit. The “Tracking for Health” survey shows that many people track their own or someone they love’s weight, diet, exercise, or other factors that can help them keep aware of their state of wellness. People are also more likely to track health factors if they are living with chronic conditions, and the more serious these concerns, the more diligently they keep their own health records. However, respondents generally conduct these activities without the use of high tech devices, and do it privately. While the practice of tracking is frequent, the use of dedicated tech tools isn’t.

The more health conditions, the more tracking

Despite the rise of quantified self devices and software, most people don’t use them, and stay pretty low tech. Nearly half of trackers (49 percent) say they keep track of their progress in their heads, and over one-third (34 percent) use a notebook or journal. Only 21 percent use some sort of tech to track health data. Half of trackers only update their notes occasionally when something changes, but 54 percent of trackers with 2 or more conditions update regularly, 46 percent with one condition, and 43 percent of trackers with no chronic conditions. Despite a rather low adoption of technology, the act of self-tracking is pretty common, and it does influence people’s attitude towards healthcare, practitioners and other patients.

Event low tech, tracking affects attitude towards health

Tracking has led 46 percent of respondents to “change their overall approach to healthcare,” 40 percent ask new questions or get a second opinion, and 34 percent said that tracking affected a decision on how to treat an illness or condition. Tracking is also a social activity, to a certain extent: one-third of trackers share their notes with others, online or offline, and half of those who share do so with a clinician. Among 2+ condition trackers, 43 percent share notes and 71 percent of those share with a clinician. While the adoption of tech remains low, the way low-tech tracking affects people only shows the potential of high-tech tracking tools.  


Legal mentions © L’Atelier BNP Paribas