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Pew Internet’s Tracking Health Report

The Pew Internet and American Life Project’s latest report, “Tracking for Health” explores how people track health indicators or symptoms, such as weight, blood pressure, blood sugar, headaches or sleep patterns. The findings show that tracking health is a powerful way to take charge of managing one’s health. Key findings of the report include:

  • Seven in ten US adults track a health indicator for themselves or for a loved one.
  • People living with chronic conditions are significantly more likely to track a health indicator or symptom.
  • Tracking on paper, spreadsheet, mobile device – or just “in their heads”
  • One in two trackers say they keep track of progress “in their heads”
  • One in three trackers say they track the data on paper, like in a notebook or journal.
  • One in five trackers say they use some form of technology to track their health data.
  • People with more serious health concerns take their tracking more seriously
  • Half of all trackers update their record or notes only occasionally and most do not share their data with anyone else.
  • Tracking can affect someone’s overall approach to health.
  • Tracking has had a more significant impact on people living with chronic conditions.

The report identifies that trackers are more likely to ask questions at their health visits. Encouraging patients to jot down their concerns and questions before health visits is a standard health literacy technique. The AHRQ’s Questions are the Answer, NSPF AskMe3, and Health Literacy Missouri’s Clear Conversations are three different approaches to the same technique. What if providers gave patients mini-notebooks with a mini-pencil to track their health — the way the dentist gives you a toothbrush and dental floss? And, also recommended the top tracking apps and sites?

The report identifies the percentage of adults who track the following:

  • 60% track weight, diet, or exercise routine
  • 33% track any other health indicators like blood pressure, sleep patterns, headaches, etc
  • 12% track any health indicators for a loved one
  • 69% total who track any health indicator for themselves or others

Monitoring diet and exercise is recognized as a common characteristic of individuals who lost weight and kept it off over time. ( Hopefully, the results of this report will encourage more people (myself included!) to take better care of our health and start journaling in notebook, website, or app! Whether it is a notebook, a sheet of paper, a website, or app, the report shows – tracking helps! It has the potential to affect your overall approach to maintaining your health or the health of a loved one.

What does this report mean for librarians? Let’s add more resources to our collections to help patients track their health. Purchase consumer health books that include journals/trackers. Link to resources like MedlinePlus Health Check Tools and identify the best health apps and mobile sites for “trackers.” Hospital librarians can share the top journal and tracking resources with patient educators. I wondered why the report showed such limited use of the web for tracking, when so many people are using the web for health information. Results showed only one percent used a website tracking tool. Perhaps lack of trust with the web discourages online health tracking. Librarians can share health check sites with patients that protect their confidentiality and privacy.

Or, perhaps people just don’t know where to find them. MedlinePlus is a great source for free online health trackers. Take a look at the MedlinePlus Health Check Tools page, which include the trackers listed below and many others:

My thanks to Susannah Fox for sharing this report with me and my colleague Myrna Morales for connecting me with Susannah.

-Michelle Eberle, Consumer Health Information Coordinator


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