Justin Lawler
Sep 23, 2017 · 6 min read

With the rise of fitness trackers, the age of self-quantification has well & truly arrived. But what are the main motivations for people to self-track? What help is it? Does having a step tracker really motivate us to get out & exercise more? Will self-tracking help improve our health?

We had a chance to dig deeper into those questions on our August Quantified Self meetup event, where Jenn Ryan presented the results of the recent survey

We then discussed how Quantified Self is being used now and how it fits into the future of healthcare.

Quantified Survey & Self Quantification in Healthcare

As part of her MSc thesis in UCG, Jenn Ryan carried out a survey in the Dublin Self Quantification community.

Jenn as a fitness instructor is very conscious of public health and interested in any new methods we can use to motivate others to take more self-responsibility of their own health. The survey was used to try to understand motivations in those that do track and bring some of those mindsets to others.

Some key insights into Dublin trackers

  • Self-Quantifiers are very much the early adopters of self-tracking as a new technology.
  • Wide range of tools being used — from fitness trackers, to phone apps to pen & paper
  • Motivations for self-tracking:
  • Self knowledge & curiosity
  • Self-optimisation
  • Improve fitness
  • Health
  • Motivate diet & exercise plans
  • People found that the process of self-tracking was very useful for motivating new behaviours
  • People found that once they started tracking variables, it was very difficult to stop
  • People are generally not too concerned about confidentiality of data
  • Overall people are happy enough with the tools available at the moment

“It is like when you are driving a car and you see the fuel gauge. If you couldn’t see the fuel gauge you would just drive on, but because you see it, you say ‘oh I am running low on fuel’ so I suppose if you see your weight going up or down, you can take action”

Quantified Self Survey Participant

Note — those who responded to the survey, being primarily in the QS community, were self-selecting. We don’t have a diverse/cross-population sample size here. The respondents are generally high socio-economic status, educated, self-driven & very curious

As far as conclusions from the survey, there is still plenty of room for further analysis into peoples behaviours regarding self-tracking in wider & more diverse groups.

Passive self-tracking however is seen as the only way to gain more wider adoption of self-tracking.

The full presentation can be found on slideshere here.

Quantified Self as a Tool in Healthcare

Quantified Self tools are a fanatic way to track progress & motivate people to healthier lifestyles. But another trend emerging recently as tools available get more advanced are to diagnose & treat chronic diseases. Justin Lawler gave a presentation of a number of use-cases on how this is currently being done in the Quantified Self community.

On the Quantified Self website, there is over 700 show & tell talks video’ed or documented from around the world. Many of these are people demonstrating how they self-quantified their chronic illnesses & ultimately tackled them to restore health once they were fully diagnosed.

4 use-cases were talked about during this evening:

  • Improving health of a person with diabetes type-1
  • Diagnosing Crohn’s disease before any physical symptoms were show
  • Diagnosing & tackling low underlying chronic infections of Lyme disease
  • Tackling Irritable Bowl Disease & Osteoporosis

In each case, people were able to get a much better understanding of their chronic diseases. This led to best ways to tackle the conditions.

This is the age of the ‘Citizen Scientist’, where participants were able to use the latest available tools (blood testing, micro biome testing, DNA testing, wearable technology, etc) as part of their own self-healthcare.

Coming from these self-initiatives, groups are being set up around the world to leverage this data & provide a common place to share knowledge and help more people with chronic diseases:

Apps are being created to crowd source wearable data for better disease management — Databases allows people with diabetes better manage their condition through sharing their personal health information.

There are now medical doctors starting to use these new data sources in a holistic fashion. Functional medicine is treating chronic diseases with this analytical & data based approach. Dr Mark Hyman in the US is leading this revolution, but there are functional medicine practices opening up all around the world, including in Dublin.

Justin’s full presentation is on slideshare here.

The Quantified Self in the Future of Healthcare

The Learning Healthcare System is an initiative where all medical records are aggregated & shared to create models of diagnosis in healthcare. This model would become more & more useful as it learns & grows with more data added, providing better treatments for future patients. This is similar to how airplane & car safety increases with more data in the system.

Data sources in this system include clinical records and hospital records. The model would also include signs and symptoms and not just focus on diagnosis. Wearable data is seen as being a key data source as part of this overall system.

“Right now we don’t data-mine healthcare data. If we did we’d probably save 100,000 lives next year.”

Larry Page

Artificial Intelligence

With the growing use of Artificial Intelligence, healthcare data becomes even more useful. There are already companies forming partnerships in this area with companies like Under Armour teaming up with IBM’s Watson to provide ‘Cognitive Sports’, using data mining to optimise athletes training programs.

IBM Watson also has healthcare initiatives in progress to do the same there.

Challenges for Learning Health Care

Before Learning Healthcare System can be rolled out more widly, there are many challenges that need to be addressed.

  • Lack of interoperability between medical databases
  • Lack of clinical grade equipment wearable devices
  • Common vocabulary for symptoms and diagnosis
  • The current lack of notion of current clinical data as a public good

Ronan’s full presentation is on slideshere here.


The Quantified Self movement is strong now, but its in a niche — essentially only being used by the ‘Early Adopters’.

More applications for self-quantification are opening up all the time. Better & more passive tools are being added to the marketplace. Better interoperability between tools & services, more businesses running services based on this data.

Self Quantification will soon reach a tipping point where its being used by the early majority of people in new & interesting ways — where Self Quantification truly has gone mainstream and providing real value to many peoples lives.

The Speakers

Jenn Ryan

Jenn, a fitness instructor, recently completed her thesis in health promotion at University Collage Galway and has been a member & contributor to the Dublin Quantified self group for the last year.

You can find Jenn on linkedin here.

Justin Lawler

Justin is one of the current organisers of the Dublin Quantified Self meetup group and has an interest in health and technology.

You can find Justin on Linkedin or on twitter and currently blogs at Irish Tech News & Medium.

Ronan McDonnell

Ronan, one of the original founding members of the Dublin Quantified Self meetup group has a vast background in data analytics in healthcare. Ronan currently works for Eagle Point Partners, who provide data analytics.

You can find Ronan on Linkedin or on twitter.

Quantified Self in Ireland

Dublin’s Quantified Self community discusses self tracking in healthcare and many other topics every 1–2 month’s in the Science Gallery in Trinity.

Next event is Wednesday 23rd September & will be on quantifying & reducing stress. Entry is free.

Quantified Self and Life Logging Dublin

Blog for all meetups for the Dublin branch of the…