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Quantified Self (part 2) by Elena Pirofalo, Experience Director at Healthware International

elena_pirofaloBuilding one’s own digital health ecosystem: personal biometric data, small data and healthcare content

I have been tracking my personal parameters for more than a year now. I’ve tracked and I am still constantly and accurately tracking exercise, food, sleep and many other parameters through multiple digital health solutions, programmes and quantified self apps; some of them connected with each other, others stand-alone (see list below). The beginning of the journey has been exciting and full of learnings, from the simple enjoyment of monitoring my activity, to raising my self-awareness and consequent change of habits. I’ve experienced the downside of the awareness, feeling good and bad at the same time and I’ve been motivated by the data intimacy and personal interpretation of the data. (Read my initial thoughts HERE)

Now I am facing a new phase, where objectives have changed during the journey and need to be reassessed. Motivation is still high, but the objectives are on stand-by.

To those who ask me why I (still) keep doing this, I instinctively answer: “it’s a mission”. It is a mission, for which I had motivation and objectives in the beginning, mainly curiosity and connection with my job.

What I have been through this year was an actual journey of self-awareness and knowledge that started with a wearable, and now piece by piece has become my personal digital health ecosystem.

New questions come to my mind while analysing the situation: Is this the natural journey of the “average” user, with no particular needs like weight-loss objectives or medical needs, or is there a substratum of content, messages and information that guides you to add those “pieces”, and precisely “those pieces” to the self-awareness journey? What does my personal digital health ecosystem say about me?

My personal digital ecosystem


My current ecosystem is composed of the above pieces. I started from a wearable that tracks activity, sleep and food. Over time, the application suggested educational content and insights somehow personalised, which guided me to expand and deepen some aspects of nutrition, first through the adoption of an additional digital health solution for food tracking, then through a repository of recipes to apply what I had learned, and finally a connected scale.

I identified an initial learning curve concerning nutrition, wellness and lifestyle recommendations coming on one side from the digital health solutions and on the other side from a natural learning and research journey through related resources and topics. By browsing and expanding information, I noticed the progressive development of a cognitive map, where each juncture has led to the next step but it is “guided” or “connected” by a subterranean thread. Just as if “someone” had built me a tailored educational and learning journey.

The natural evolution of my journey resulted in the step-by-step addition of more pieces to the ecosystem, such as integrated programmes that offered plans to improve health and different interaction interfaces (AI/Conversational).

New engagement tools are enriching my (user) experience, but not my knowledge. The content base is substantially the same – at least for the apps and solutions that I am using and testing – as well as the content base I have been exposed to through natural reading pathways, in-app suggestions and initial analysis.

The current educational path guides me from the available content base directly to a scientific level, which is not easy to understand for those who, unlike me, don’t work in healthcare. And even for people like me, most of the information beyond the first layer is either unobtainable or beyond our level of comprehension.

I faced a gap between the available content base and the in-depth content/analysis opportunities, which are directed towards a professional audience.

Is there a space for content production that both the digital health solutions and a natural self-education path could fill?

It is now time for digital health solutions and startups to include a consolidation and content production plan in their business plans that is really personalised and relevant for their users. The editorial plan is a result of the analysis and insights gathered from users’ behaviour and could include original content, produced on purpose by an editorial team, or crowd-sourced from the user-base (going beyond the testimonial-style, but drawing on people’s different expertise), or collected from different online sources. A blend of those three, constantly maintained, could help fill this gap.
This should go hand in hand with new engagement strategies, innovative user interfaces and premium programmes, thus augmenting their relevance and value.

In addition, it is now time to involve healthcare experts and professionals in the “translation” of the scientific/second level content or increase the points of contact and exchange, scaling the artificial intelligence level to provide meaningful exposure to relevant personalised content for those like me, who do not engage in community discussions or in online interactions with physicians.

One of my colleagues and artificial intelligence experts, when discussing this, told me: “All the applications you use won’t change you, you will still be yourself!”. And it is exactly like that: I am still myself with my curiosity and my need for control. My ecosystem is somehow another kind of mirror to look in (and to skip sometimes). Just like my home mirror tells me it’s time to go to the hairdresser for a cut and colour, the one on my smartphone can tell me it’s time to go to bed.

My ecosystem talks about me and I hope it will talk to me soon. I look forward to experiencing the next generation of solutions, where devices will be able to collect more info from the environment around me, thus inspiring me with new motivational and insightful triggers.

Digital health solutions in use: