Seven in Ten American Adults Track Their Health Status


The Pew Research Center presents preliminary findings of an e-patient survey conducted to explore the prevalence of self-tracking in the adult US population. The findings, to be published in full this week, indicate that:

  • Seven in 10 American adults are self-trackers, monitoring their weight, diet, exercise, or symptoms.
  • 85 percent of American’s own a smartphone.
  • 46 percent of self-trackers say it has changed their overall approach to health.

The preliminary report casts these numbers in a hopeful light, suggesting that they are representative of a US patient population that, mixed with the general saturation of smartphones, could be poised for an mHealth engagement explosion. One could question, however, what it is about these numbers that suggests that any shift in patient behavior is likely. Some other trends in the report suggest the opposite:

  • Only 62 percent of US adults with two or more chronic conditions engage in self- tracking.
  • Half of self-trackers do all of their tracking in their head.
  • Half track their conditions only when something has changed.
  • Only one-third of trackers use a notebook or journal.
  • One-fifth use an app, device, spreadsheet, or website.

If the definition of a “self-tracker” in this study includes patients who track their disease state entirely in their heads, or that only self-track when something has changed, one would expect a significantly higher percent of adults with two or more chronic conditions engaging in self-tracking than the 62 percent reported. The pessimist in the room cannot help but point out that this leaves 38 percent of US adults who have two or more chronic conditions that are neither maintaining a mental awareness of their disease, nor monitor their disease even in the event that something has changed.

Based on these findings, one could also conclude that the data-management requirements of effective disease management appear to be as difficult a habit to instill in chronically ill patients as the behavioral changes (diet, exercise, medication compliance) needed to manage the disease itself. While the fun answer to this problem may be to spur the creative minds of America’s health conscious app developers, until those patient-engaging apps are available and proven, a more patient-centric view of these numbers would suggest that patient education may need to include even stronger emphasis on the importance of self-tracking and its relationship with disease progression, as well as additional strategies for incorporating self-tracking into daily living.

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