It’s been five years since Wired editors coined the term “quantified self”, and it’s becoming clear that the trend is starting to catch on with consumers in applications outside of the realm of athletics. For those unfamiliar with the concept of quantified self (QS), it refers to the habit of using technology to acquire data about your daily life in terms of outputs, stats and performance. Over the past half decade, QS-based products have begun to typify consumer life; mobile apps and bodily affixed technologies have enabled people to track how fast they run, how many hours they sleep, and the types and composition of the foods they consume. Only recently has the QS trend started to crop up in medical applications. Healthcare companies are in a technology development frenzy to try and keep pace with consumers’ growing need to know more.
The spread of QS products from the consumer world to the medical world is a natural one. Historically, (I will go out on a limb here and say) medicine has stood as somewhat of a black box to the average patient. The practice is cloaked in obscure phraseology and has been subspecialized so much so that getting holistic answers to one’s health status from a single provider can prove to be quite difficult. In light of this, and the universal vulnerability to illness, the possibility of tracking, answering and finally feeling in control of one’s own health data is, understandably, very appealing.
Emerging consumer technologies in the medical space are starting to promise patients the possibility of taking ownership of their own health data. A smartphone can now wirelessly track pill ingestion (http://mobihealthnews.com/18075/proteus-gains-de-novo-fda-clearance-for-ingestible-biomedical-sensor/), track and optimize dental hygiene (http://mobihealthnews.com/17792/beam-brush-smartphone-app-gain-fda-510k-clearance/), and could even diagnose pneumonia (http://www.sfgate.com/technology/article/Smartphone-app-to-diagnose-pneumonia-3745224.php). The mobile phone and its mushrooming volume of potential medical apps is the start of something big. That little black box is proving to be one of the keys to unlocking the historical black box of medicine, and I can’t wait to watch the medical community grow to be all the better as that unfolds.