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Digital health: who are the users?

Almost two-thirds of Canadian adults regularly monitor one or more aspects of their health, and a proliferation of digital devices has led to the emergence of a quantified self movement, which is extremely popular among millennials. A research partnership involving HEC Montréal’s Research Chair in Digital Health sheds a lot of light on this phenomenon which could contribute to improving the health of chronically ill patients.

QUANTIFIED SELF, AN UNEXPLORED PHENOMENON

New and wearable consumer devices, such as physical activity tracking devices, tooth brushes, or smart clothes offer us the promise of healthier living. At the same time emerges a self-quantifying phenomenon, in which these digital objects are used for improving one’s self-knowledge by collecting and analyzing data on personal health and well-being. To the point that many experts believe that the momentum gained by these tools will be the next digital health revolution.

However, research around this movement has provided only a limited insight into the matter. Therefore, researchers achieved a first, by conducting a survey among more than 4,000 adult Canadians, in order to understand this emerging phenomenon.

SIGNIFICANT FINDINGS

  • 61% of respondents who monitor one or more aspects of their health use digital devices.
  • They mainly monitor physical activity (51%), nutrition (33%) and sleep patterns (29%). The most popular tools are fitness monitors and smart watches.
  • These digital self-trackers are usually young or mature adults claiming to be in good or very good health, holding down a job, having attended university, and enjoying an annual family income of more than CAD$80,000.
  • The vast majority of individuals using such technologies are very satisfied (83%) and 88.2% intend to continue using them.
  • More than two-thirds of them said that smart digital devices had helped them maintain or improve their health status and be better informed about their health in general.
  • 1/4 said they had stopped using their digital devices, mainly due to a loss of interest. This decision to give up seems to be more pronounced among users who had described their state of health as being poor or fair.

PROSPECTS FOR HEALTH POLICIES AND MEDICINE

  • The results of this study provide important background information that will guide future research on the evolution of the self-quantifying phenomenon in Canada and elsewhere in the world. They could inform future policies and efforts regarding the incorporation of digital devices as support tools for patients.
  • Digital healthcare technologies could actually benefit people with chronic illnesses, but it remains to be seen whether they will attract many takers, beyond early adopters. New studies could seek to identify obstacles faced by patients, particularly the chronically ill, when they practice self-monitoring through digital healthcare technologies.

A NEW FIELD OF RESEARCH

“Researchers must continue studying these issues in order to gain a deeper understanding of how digital health technologies can be used, not only for medicine in general, but also for preventing and managing chronic illnesses.”
Guy Paré, holder of the Research Chair in Digital Health

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION


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