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The Force of the Quantified Self

In my last post, I talked about the Dark Side of the Quantified Self — the possibility that becoming too focused on one’s own personal data may begin to diminish our individual real-life experiences and interactions. Mindfulness can be mind numbing if taken to an uncomfortable level. But for every Dark Side, I’m told, there has to be a Force for good. And in the case of the Quantified Self, I see the greatest potential for health improvement in the quiet collection of data that happens without our constant attention.

But don’t get rid of your pedometer quite yet. Pedometers, food diaries, and scales are definitely associated with positive changes in behavior, so we do recommend them as external triggers when we have trouble motivating ourselves on our own. But collecting data under the radar (with consent of course) and communicating it to the right people could potentially offer even more than a health course correction — it could save your life. I think that this is the future of the Quantified Self.

The AliveCor ECG device is an example of cool ideas to come. It’s simple and beautiful — an iPhone case that fits neatly on your phone. You gently press the phone to your chest and the phone automatically begins to record an electrocardiogram tracing which includes information about your heart rate and rhythm. It can even potentially diagnose a heart attack. The data could be sent automatically to a cardiologist who examines your heart’s data and can contact you with any concerns. I recently debuted the device on television and people are already asking when they will be available for sale. This simplicity of data collection, transfer, and health care provider response should be our goal.

So what’s the next step? Because ideally we wouldn’t need to find our iPhone when we develop an abnormal heart rhythm or a heart attack. Someone else would know about it and would be able to help us. Wouldn’t it be great to record this data on an ongoing basis and feed it to a databank which can analyze it and direct us to appropriate health interventions? Enter Everyheartbeat.org, a new platform that will help combine innovative sensors and your mobile phone to upload and track heart data — hopefully for millions of people. Researchers will have access to data to understand our hearts better, and clinicians will be able to give you a call if your heartbeat is irregular, too fast or too slow, or if there are signs of a heart attack. It’s amazing, and it’s really happening.

Would you want to upload your personal health data? Or does it sound too much like Big Doctor looking over your shoulder? It’s true — with big data comes great responsibility… So may the Force be with us.

Photo: Hemera

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