Thursday, June 16, 2011

The Self-Quantification Movement — Implications for Health Care Professionals

A few months ago, I was invited by the editors of a relatively new medical journal SelfCare: The Journal of Consumer-Led Health to write a paper for them on the self-quantification movement and what it might mean for doctors. The paper "The Self-Quantification Movement — Implications for Health Care Professionals" has just been published. The revolution in consumer-oriented health technologies, such as Tonic, is one of the major factors in the rise of this movement.

Here's the abstract:
The growing phenomenon of self-quantification – people who observe certain aspects of their lives in great detail, analyze this data, and conduct self-experiments in the interests of improving their lives – is something health care professionals (HCPs) should be aware of. Many self-quantifiers’ efforts are focused on health and HCPs may need to learn how best to interact with such deeply-engaged and knowledgeable patients. HCPs may also benefit from leveraging some of the tools and learnings that stem from the self-quantification movement. This paper examines the self-quantification phenomenon through the experiences of the Quantified Self, a leading organization in this movement, describes the key driving factors, and suggests some implications for HCPs.
In an accompanying Editor's Note, the editors stress how unusual it is for a piece such as this to appear in a medical journal — based not on clinical data, medical research and scholarly references, but rather on consumer activities and opinions — and yet how important it is for healthcare professionals to at least be aware of what's going on. And they urge readers to weigh-in with their perspectives:

The publication of the opinion paper 'The Self-Quantification Movement - Implications For Health Care Professionals' by Rajiv Mehta is unusual for an academic medical journal, in that it presents no new data and does not review publications from the standard medical literature. Furthermore it presents the ideas and attitudes of a consumer movement -‘self quantification’ - that many Health Care Professionals will view with skepticism or even alarm.  Nonetheless consumers increasingly consult sources of health information outside of conventional medicine and have access to sophisticated tools for measuring their own bodily functions. Increasingly, they may use such information autonomously in a form of self care that may circumvent, or even be in conflict with, conventional medicine.  For this reason we believe it is important for HCPs to be aware of such movements and to understand the motivations at work within them.  Engaging with individuals that have such an intense interest in their own health may be difficult but ultimately rewarding for both sides. We would be interested to receive your views on this subject, letters for publication should be sent by email to: 
It's good to see healthcare professionals paying attention. Dr. Joseph Kvedar, of Partners Healthcare and the Center for Connected Health, also wrote about this on their blog: "From Couch Potato to Quantified Self: This Journey Must be Defined and Encouraged".  While at the moment doctors are mainly worrying about how to keep people from doing anything dangerous, and how such consumer-led data could be used in a clinical setting, I expect that over time they'll also find they have much to learn from self-quantifiers. 

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