The user experience of self-tracking - pt.2

by Alf on 30 October 2013

In my previous blog I explored the user experience of self-tracking, specifically looking at energy monitors. In this post I am continuing upon this theme but focusing on health and fitness self-tracking. In recent years, medicine and health psychology have investigated interventions designed to help people check, manage and improve their health. Mobile self-monitoring apps and devices as well as internet-based interventions are amongst the most promising tools that endeavour to change behaviours and/or respond to medical conditions. Wearable computing, including watches, wristbands and various mobile phone accessories are getting closer to turning our bodies into quantified selves, with minimal input. On the other hand, online services are harvesting and aggregating the medical data logged by their users and generating medical advice delivered as tailored diagnoses and therapies. As a result, we can currently track our health in 4 different ways:

  1. Logging progress related to behavioural change in an app (e.g. stop smoking)
  2. Self-monitoring through a mobile device, usually heart rate or sleeping patterns
  3. Logging personal medical history in a shared and anonymous database
  4. Scanning vital signs through portable devices (currently under development)

However,  for the following reasons turning feedback into meaningful and actionable knowledge is still one of the major obstacles in the user experience of health monitoring:

  • The way this technology connects to our bodies is not seamless and requires considerable user input
  • Data is extremely heterogeneous and hard to obtain - only specific aspects of our health can be monitored individually or together
  • Communicating medical data poses many challenges and requires some cognitive effort to understand
  • The (bad) habits health monitors target are often addictions (psychological or physical), and additional effort is required to keep people motivated

As a result, most solutions focus on heart monitoring, sleeping patterns and health behavioural change. These are usually delivered in one of 4 ways:

1. Apps that log progress

Recent research indicates mobile devices have potential to deliver feedback on matters of health and fitness. Mobile apps are the most common tool which allow the user to set goals and log progress manually. In the example below, the American Government created an app, QuitStart, which helps teenagers quit smoking:

Source: QuitStart  

2. Fitness & wellbeing apps

Fitness and wellbeing apps use a mobile / wearable device (e.g. a mobile phone or a wristband) to record heart rate and sleeping patterns. They offer the most basic approach in terms of scope and support for motivation. However, they also come with additional information to help users compare their vital signs with the optimal readings for their profile or the values for the average population. An already engaged / concerned user is the most likely target audience for this type of tool

Source: MotionX 24/7 In order to understand how these 2 approaches work, it is beneficial to look at the COM-B model of behaviour (Michie et al., 2011, Implementation Science). This model identifies 3 main areas of intervention to help people change their habits:

  • Capability (the physical and psychological resources a person has to address these changes, including knowledge)
  • Motivation (the propositions, beliefs and wants beyond our actions)
  • Opportunity (the actual support and prompts we receive from the environment)

The feedback provided by these apps is related to all 3 areas because the information they return to us can help:

  • Increase the knowledge about the effects (negative/positive) of our habits (capability)
  • Improve our skills to cope with those changes (motivation)
  • Relate to others in terms of goals to achieve (motivation)
  • Illicit an emotional response to stimulate a desired action (motivation)
  • Receive additional cues and prompts from the environment (opportunity)

Source: Prof. Robert West’s personal website As we can see, the principles illustrated in this model are very consistent with the ones I mentioned in the previous post on energy monitors and demonstrate how feedback and knowledge help us shape or change our behaviours. The next 2 services provide the user with a more comprehensive approach to health monitoring, but only time will tell if they’ll be successful for the average consumer. In fact, both services are either new to the market or still in development. They aren't goal oriented, and are designed to check the user’s health status and provide quick and accurate routes for a diagnosis / treatment.

3. Logging personal medical history

These services let users find the most appropriate treatments for their conditions by recording their symptoms and the associated degree of severity in a shared and anonymous database. However, the amount of user’s input required for logging a personal medical history requires time and knowledge, and the way the service is designed doesn’t facilitate this task at all. For example, the user is asked to answer yes or no for all symptoms, rather than having the ‘no’ answer already selected.


Source: CureTogether

4. Scanning and analysing vital signs

Currently under development, the Scanadu scanner may revolutionise healthcare as we know it. Its technology may save patients the need to visit their local surgeries to report symptoms or get a diagnosis. This device may also improve the way we communicate to doctors because its readings can be sent via email. The device can scan and analyse vital signs including body temperature, heart rate, oximetry, ECG, HRV, PWTT, level of stress and urine Checks are performed by placing this scanner on the forehead for about 10 seconds. Data readings are then sent to a mobile device and managed from there. Of all the above, the Scanadu looks like the most promising technology because of the minimal input required from the user and its huge scope in terms of medical readings. The device has been designed with the user experience in mind, and most readings are taken in one simple gesture without the need of clumsy procedures. Data is also analysed and displayed in a user friendly way that provides actionable knowledge. I can't wait to get my hands on one!


Source: Scanadu    

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