Self-monitoring products create a digital doctor

BY: BAILEY BRISSON

No longer is obtaining information about our bodies’ activities only accessible through a visit to the doctor. With the click of a button or a download of an app, the world of statistical-overload and self-prescribing is available with open arms. Products like the Nike FuelBand and the Withings Smart Activity Tracker are just a few of the self-monitoring products that have hit the market. These offer a mere glance into the growing “Quantified Self” movement. For non-futurists, this is the gaining of self-knowledge by tracking the details of daily activities with technology. In other words, a life hack to better health.

While this sounds like another over-hyped fad for the tech savvy, if used correctly, some of the products actually seem beneficial.

Much attention from this movement has been placed on monitoring physical health. Now a new trend is on the rise, and it may have positive impacts on consumers. According to trendwatching.com, interest in “mychiatry,” or the use of technology to monitor mental health, is expected to increase in 2014.

New websites, mobile apps, and devices could soon be common ways of measuring stress levels and other mental states.

In a 2012 study by the American Psychological Association, 64 percent of Americans between the ages of 18 and 33 were said to have experienced moderate to severe stress. This is clearly a major issue in society, and unfortunately there is no on-off switch for escaping the pressures of work, school or finances.

There is hope, as reported by Pew Research, with 83 percent of Millennials owning a smartphone, the aid of a stress relief app is literally at their fingertips. Let the stressed rejoice!

If music is the preferred relief, the Mico Headphones, one of the many self-monitoring products, can indicate if a person is tired, relaxed or stressed by measuring brain waves and playing music accordingly. This could be crucial in combating the bottomless pit of dissatisfaction, also known as the iPod shuffle mode.

PIP is a stress-reducing video game that uses skin-responsive biosensors. Essentially, the most relaxed player wins. This concept not only allows individuals to set goals and compete against peers, but after a long day of time-constrained responsibility, it provides much needed relief from life’s unrelenting pressures.

Along with the Melon Headband, which gives personalized feedback on mental focus, and Shadow, an app that tracks dreams to show a correlation between daily life and sleep habits, these apps really do seem like positive steps toward improving quality of life for many individuals.

This is not to say there is no room for error. Some devices or apps work better than others, those wanting to engage with a product must first understand that there is always room for inaccuracy and misinterpretation. This may come from the product’s reading of its users, or the user’s reading of the resulting data.

In no way should consumers think that these products take the place of consulting with a doctor. Some apps simply do not distinguish the difference between results that are interpreted for social media, and those that should be interpreted by an expert. Rather than distance individuals from their medical professionals, these apps should help them stay connected.

FOLUP, a New York-based company, has demonstrated a new platform in healthcare by creating mobile tracking apps that collect patients’ health data and share results with their medical providers.

With nearly half (45 percent) of adults living with a chronic health condition, these apps aren’t geared for complete lifestyle assistance. Instead they should be used for tracking concerns or medical progressions in-between doctor visits.

For some, placing our minds and bodies in the hands of technology may seem like another step toward giving up the ability to perceive our own sense of self. Sure, there may be more invasive interactions with technology in this day and age, but users have not given up their human capacity to choose whether or not to use the products.

If self-monitoring results can bring awareness to a current problem, persuade trackers to seek professional help or affect someone’s overall approach to a healthy lifestyle, why not hop on the technology bandwagon?