Valuable Healthcare Data or TMI? The Quantified Self

Posted on August 29, 2011 I Written By

Priya Ramachandran is a Maryland based freelance writer. In a former life, she wrote software code and managed Sarbanes Oxley related audits for IT departments. She now enjoys writing about healthcare, science and technology.

Maybe two years ago, I saw this interview on TV with this Silicon Valley yuppie who had a camera attached to a cap on his head (or maybe it was a backpack. I digress.) Every 10 seconds, the camera would kick into action and take a snapshot. This way, the yuppie surmised, he would have a repository of pretty much everything he had ever done, even the parts he didn’t like or want to share.

Fascinating as the interview was, to me the $64,000 question was Why? Why, I wondered, would someone want this much detail about his life?

Turns out, there are a whole lot of people who are into this kind of minutiae logging. And they may very well be changing the way medical records are used and stored. At Quantified Self, people believe that self-logged data holds the key to a better understanding of oneself. And some Quantified Selfers are on a mission to make it easier and cheaper to save one’s personal data.

I can think of a myriad things about my health that I might want to log and analyze – blood pressure, weight, mood swings, food intake and (ew! even) bowel movements. Such data might serve to show me the cause and effect, or at least correlations, between my daily choices and the end result of these choices. Such feedback loops apparently work. Last month’s Wired story on this topic shows how innocuous and ineffective seeming reporting can be used for positive behavior change. (There’s an interesting section on how one inventor helps non-compliant patients take their pills as directed.)

This is still a newish area of experimentation. We still don’t know if, and when, and how this trend will play out in the healthcare field. To me, there are several questions that need to be answered:

  • How is data going to be stored and transmitted to the EMR?
  • Who takes charge of interpreting all this data we will gather? Will my already overworked primary care physician for example want to look through graphs of my self-reported B.P. and weight changes?
  • How will this data interface with EMR systems already in place?
  • How safe is it to maintain a personal health data journal? What are the HIPAA implications?
  • How much is too much?

It will be interesting to see how this form of health-logging will play out.