Heal Thyself Online

An interesting phenomenon is happening in health care in the US, quite apart from all the noise about changes to the country’s system of health insurance. Just as people once moved from institutional, mainframe computers to personal computers, they are starting to make the same move from institutional to individual tools with their health.

NEW YORK – An interesting phenomenon is happening to health care in the United States, quite apart from all the noise about changes to the country’s system of health insurance: individuals are starting to take charge of their own health and trying to avoid needing care in the first place. Just as people long ago moved from institutional, mainframe computers to personal computers, they are starting to make the same move from institutional to individual tools with their health – not for treating serious diseases such as cancer, to be sure, but for everyday monitoring and prevention.

A variety of trends are coming together to make this happen. First, it is becoming apparent that many health problems are self-induced: too much unhealthy food and drink, too much smoking, too little sleep or exercise. There is nothing new about that insight, but now it is easier to keep track of personal behavior. Just as we can use financial software to manage our money, we can now use a variety of software tools to monitor our own behavior and bodily statistics.

Many of these tools are things people first designed for themselves. For example, J.J. Allaire founded the weight-loss Lose It! iPhone app for himself and has gone from 195 to 170 pounds (88 to 77 kilos) and gained some 4.5 million users in the process. Like the founders of the Homebrew Computer Club, a seminal group of Berkeley computer geeks who got together in the 1980’s, many started by rigging up gadgets and later realized that they had come across a commercial opportunity. Many of these new “homebrew health” people meet at so-called Quantified Self Meetups, where some people demonstrate their software and others come to learn or compare data with others.

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