Will the “Quantified Self” Change Health Care?

August 11th, 2014 / By Herb Fillmore

Yes. To achieve real success in population health we need health care consumers to actively engage in the behaviors necessary to secure their health. “Patient” engagement is the holy grail of health care. However, despite decades of research into health behavior and ways to change it, we don’t seem to be any closer. I think that is about to change.

Disruptive technologies are proliferating in response to the new cultural phenomena of the “quantified self.” This movement believes each of us is a rational creature responsive to data and if we can only get enough indisputable facts about our daily life, then we can manage/change our behavior. Therefore, everything in our lives must be tracked.  This assumption is debatable — some people do not need a scale to know if they are gaining weight, a look in the mirror will do. However, for others, including myself, we seem to automatically airbrush that image in the mirror, so a little rude data every now and then may be necessary.

The quantified self will rapidly adopt every new wearable technology and data-aggregating health app that can feed smart phones, electronic health records and link securely to provider/health coaches. This matrix of information will inform your doctor when you have that second cocktail and when your sun salutation is perfect.

But with big data comes big responsibility.

With more pervasive use of these technologies, the consumer will be recognized as a key part of the health care cost equation, which will further reinforce the use of these new tools. It will become clear to everyone — policy makers, insurers, and even patients — that the time has come to ask consumers to play a more active role in bending the cost curve.

The consumer’s skin in the game (literally) will lead to more demands for provider engagement and tailoring of health care. Providers as lifestyle/healthstyle coaches will become the norm. All of these trends will improve our willingness and ability to collaborate with those coaches — leading to better population health.

Obviously in this brave new world we must find the balance between more engaged health care and personal privacy/freedoms. That story will have many chapters.

In the meantime, many of these changes will take years to mature. We are looking ahead and working with our customers to innovate and plan so we all are ready with the information and services to thrive in this exciting new world.

Herb Fillmore is Senior Director, Market Development for Populations and Payment Solutions at 3M Health Information Systems. @HFillmoreIII