We’ve noticed a trend that has many implications for medical device designers and that bears watching: the increasing prevalence of “personal informatics”. This is a fairly new phenomenon, and one that will grow substantially in coming years. What is it exactly, and where is it headed?

Personal informatics has a number of different names: “health quantification”, “life tracking”, “data journaling”, among others. Basically it consists of people logging just about anything they want to keep track of, using a variety of tracking/analysis software. There are numerous applications, many for the iphone, that help you track everything from your weight to your sexual activity. http://thecarrot.com/ currently has 40 different trackers.

Most of these applications require that you input your own data, which can be a tedious, time-consuming undertaking. You have to be very motivated to keep up with it, and that is a barrier for most people. In order for the technology to become more widespread and medically useful, data input will need to become much more automatic. And in fact, wearable devices are now appearing that are beginning to do just that. One of the most notable is the Fitbit (http://www.fitbit.com/), a device that tracks your movement via an accelerometer and that uploads the stored data to your computer via a wireless base station whenever the device is within 15 feet of it.

Personal informatics is going to impact the health care industry in significant ways, not least of which will be as a means of lowering the cost of care. More about these impacts in future posts.