20 August 2013

A duty of care – Creating a dashboard of your life

 

There are almost countless prophetic quotes in George Orwell’s brave and rebellious novel, 1984. None perhaps describes the modern cult of analytics and tracking as well as the line, “Perhaps one did not want to be loved so much as to be understood.” Analytics and performance tracking is not as much about loving your business or website, as much as it is about understanding it and learning from it.

Performance monitoring and tracking, however, is not limited to websites and smartphone apps.

xrayThe remarkable growth in the availability of gadgets and apps to help human beings monitor and track their own health is fuelling a revolution in modern healthcare, empowering people to take charge of their own health, and giving them the tools to be able to track a seemingly endless range of health indicators.

Storm ID have written about the potential for self-administered care before. More and more the vision of empowered consumers collecting their own health data, and monitoring, diagnosing and mediating their lifestyle is becoming a reality. And as more tools become available it is now that much easier to go beyond simply living in your body to beginning to understand it.

This all sounds dandy in principle, but how does one go about using readily available technology to help improve one’s health? After all, not many of us have been through eight or nine years of medical training to be able to diagnose ourselves or to prescribe remedies.

The important thing to remember is that the cult of body monitoring does not replace GPs or doctors. Clearly, a doctor is still necessary to diagnose disease and injury, or to prescribe treatment, yet they are treated by a significant minority as human health monitors. It is well-known that much of the stress on GPs’ workload is treating disease caused by poor lifestyle choices of their patients.

For instance, in their “State of the Nation 2012” report, Diabetes UK suggest that the number of people in the UK diagnosed with Type-2 diabetes (linked strongly to obesity) has increased from 1.9 million to 2.5 million, and this number is expected to double by 2025. And by the time they are diagnosed, 50% of people already have signs of complications.

There are worries that half of UK men could be obese by 2030.

The NHS has clear guidelines on how much exercise we should all be trying to undertake. Realistically, how many people do you know that probably manage to do their prescribed amount or more?

The challenge to all of us, however, is how we motivate ourselves to radically overhaul our lifestyle to keep ourselves fit and healthy and away from our doctor?

This is where self-monitoring apps and gadgets come into their own.

The NHS recommends walking 10,000 steps a day as one step to health – burning excess calories, strengthening your heart and building stamina. There are a multitude of dedicated pedometers and pedometer apps available to help monitor this.

Apps such as MyFitnessPal help you keep track of your calorie intake, which is extremely helpful for users on certain types of diet, including intermittent fasting, such as the popular 5:2 diet. Combine this with modern digital scales that have the capability to export data on weight, body fat, muscle mass and more to PCs or apps, and the basis for a platform of lifestyle performance monitoring begins to emerge.

Other apps, such as SleepBot help monitor sleep, and enable you to export data on your sleep patterns, including how much sleep you get and the quality of your sleep.

All of this only scratches the surface of what is now widely available, cheaply and across many platforms and gadgets. Dedicated gadgets tracking things like heart rate, blood sugar, and many other health indicators also exist.

This empowers all of us to create a dashboard for our own lifestyle, bench-marking our key health indicators like weight, body fat, muscle mass, and to record our key health inputs like steps walked, calories eaten, quality of sleep and more.

For some, the data will be a wake-up call. We will see how poorly we follow the guidelines to begin with, but how effective changes in our lifestyle can be.

There is something of a catch in this, however. It is difficult to be motivated to take ownership of your health tracking unless you already think there is a problem, but you won’t know if there is a problem until you begin monitoring. So, for the sake of your health, weigh yourself, figure out how much exercise you really do, or how far you really walk each day.

As George Orwell also wrote in 1984, “Until they became conscious they will never rebel, and until after they have rebelled they cannot become conscious.”

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