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A Physician's Perspective: Meaningful Use of Health Technology

Mar 30 2012   12:48AM GMT

The Meaningful Use of Quantified Self Gadgets

Posted by: DrJosephKim
Fitbit, mhealth, quantified self

There is a growing body of people who are very actively engaged in the quantified self (QS) movement and I have found myself more engaged with my own Fitbit. I got my Fitbit at a conference in Philadelphia where they were having a contest to see if all the attendees collectively could walk a large number of steps. They reached their goal and donated money to a charity. I did not become a regular Fitbit user until I went to the HIMSS conference in Las Vegas. There, I wore my Fitbit every day because I wanted to know how many steps I was walking as I roamed the exhibit halls and attended sessions. I found that it was easy to reach my daily 10,000 steps goals.

The quantified self movement isn’t simply about tracking your daily activity. There is a “meaningful use” behind this technology and I’m not sure if everyone gets it. On a simplistic level, the concept behind self-monitoring is that the feedback will fuel behavior change and motivate people who are not very physically active to become more active. If you are averaging only 2,000 steps each day and you have set a personal goal of 10,000, you will be motivated to make time to exercise. You will be deliberate and intentional about finding ways to increase your steps. As you see progress, you’ll be rewarded and you will continue to engage in healthy activity. However, it does not end there.

Once you have started uploading and sharing your activity statistics online, you’ll find that you can engage other users and enter competitions. This simple element of gamification actually has a powerful behavior modifying effect. People feel competitive and they want to win – whether that is winning a physical prize or simply earning bragging rights that you can tweet to all your followers. Gamification is becoming an essential element of sustained health behavior change and we are finding that QS devices have a powerful ability to engage all types of people. You don’t need to be a gamer to understand or appreciate that. We all have some element of a competitive drive within us.

Finally, QS devices can provide a layer of social accountability. When is the last time someone asked you about your level of physical activity? How do your friends and family members know your level of physically activity? If you tell people you went to the gym, you may have spent 5 minutes on a treadmill or you might have exercised for 60 minutes. By sharing your QS statistics online to your friends and family, you now build a layer of social accountability where people may ask you, “Why were you so inactive today? Are you not feeling well?” This type of social support structure is possible because the Internet connects people all over the world. Your exercise accountability partner may be thousands of miles away.

I see tremendous potential in the QS movement and I encourage you to explore it. Don’t just dip your toes in the water. Immerse yourself in achieve meaningful use. Your health will be glad you did.

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