What do you get when you strap 700 health app monitors to your body? If you’re Chris Dancy of Denver, Colorado, you get the title “Most Quantified Human” and you now know what your body is doing–your heart rate, blood pressure, etc. On any given day, Dancy wears and monitors dozens of body devices, from a Pebble smartwatch and Google Glass to a BodyMedia armband and Blue heart rate monitor. He eats, drinks, sleeps, and so on, according to the data. He rejoices in taking charge of his health.
It’s the mHealth (mobile health) explosion–the mobile-device-enabled approach to taking charge of our own health care. More than 100,000 health applications (“apps”) are available. More than 50 million downloads are expected this year, and nearly 150 million downloads are expected in 2016.
And, it all seems to make sense, if we regard brain, blood, bones, material organs, etc., to be the essence of our health. But, are they?
By solely monitoring the body–even with ultra-sophisticated technologies–are we really taking charge? While fixed on the body, are we forgetting to watch what often controls our body—our thoughts?
Consider monitoring the body for a feared disease, for example. Data indicating a symptom can feed one’s fears and perhaps lead to incorrect or even harmful diagnoses and treatment.
Health professionals are raising concerns about something perhaps even more serious: Could the close watch for a feared disease result in the actual occurrence of that disease? Mental anxiety is linked by several studies to the development of disease.1 For example, research has long chronicled what is known as “medical student syndrome”, in which students experience the very symptoms of the disease they are studying.2
When it comes to taking charge, thoughts evidently matter. Even without wired technology, they are closer to our “view,” and they can be discerned more quickly than even our body data.
1“Anxiety and Physical Illness,” Harvard Health Publications, July 2008, http://www.health.harvard.edu/newsletters/Harvard_Womens_Health_Watch/2008/July/Anxiety_and_physical_illness (accessed 22 Feb. 2003).
2“Definition of Medical School Syndrome,” MedicineNet.com, http://www.medterms.com/script/main/art.asp?articlekey=30951