What You Need to Know About Health Tracking

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Retail display of health tracking devicesFrom wristbands and watches to phones, apps, earbuds, and more, we are in the midst of a health tracking boom. A recent report projects that the global health tracking market will grow from its 2013 value of $1.1 billion to $18.8 billion in 2019. Building on the step-counting capabilities of pedometers, health tracking devices have evolved to record all kinds of health-related activities. But what use are we making of all this data? Are there downsides we haven’t considered? And what is in store for the future of health tracking technology?

What Is Health Tracking?

The term health tracking refers to the collection and analysis of various data points related to one’s health. Popular devices like Misfit Shine can track steps, calories, altitude, and sleep patterns. Others, like Fitbit Surge, incorporate functionality like heart rate monitoring and GPS tracking to record the route you took on a run or bike ride. The newly introduced Apple Watch tracks how long you’ve been sedentary, and reminds you to get up and stretch or take a short walk. Health tracking technology is changing fast, as companies compete for consumers by offering an ever-growing array of features and capabilities.

How Might Health Tracking Data Be Used?

The potential value of health tracking extends beyond the consumer fitness market. Companies have long offered incentives (and sometimes penalties) to encourage their employees to cultivate healthy fitness habits as a means of keeping productivity high and overhead low. Health tracking may give employers another way to motivate healthy habits, as well as providing insight into things like stress and energy levels, which could lead to improved management and policy development.

Health care providers could incorporate the data from health tracking devices into electronic health records and other health informatics systems. Patient data could be used to improve individual treatment plans, as well as aggregated for research purposes.

What Are the Risks?

There are concerns about the security of health tracking devices. If your device gets hacked, a great deal of information could be exposed, from your age, gender, weight, and height, to your home address and exercise routes and habits. Experts recommend educating yourself about how data is transmitted and protected before choosing a device. (A strong password won’t protect you if the manufacturer hasn’t taken the necessary steps to encrypt passwords during transmission.) For extra peace of mind, take the added precaution of turning off the device’s wireless functionality when you’re not using it.

Where Is Health Tracking Headed?

Some insiders believe the next phase of health tracking technology will make today’s most advanced devices obsolete. Imagine wearing an electronic skin patch, as thin and flexible as a temporary tattoo, that monitors your vital signs and tracks indicators related to chronic illnesses like diabetes or a heart condition. Researchers at Seoul University have developed a prototype patch that can not only dispense medication, but is smart enough to do so only when necessary, like when an epileptic patient experiences a seizure.

Heath tracking is a growing industry, and this exciting technology is still in its nascent stage. As its capabilities and applications grow, end users will need health IT professionals to help manage the tremendous flow of data that will come from health tracking devices.

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