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The quantified self: consumer attitudes to self-tracking healthcare

Self-tracking healthcare devices may very well be the latest and greatest wellness trend. It’s rapidly gaining popularity among consumers who pursue a holistic approach to healthy living, allowing people to measure, track, and quantify biometrics — with the capability to one day move from sick care to proactive care. And as we, as a population, age and healthcare costs increase, there is likely to be an even greater emphasis on monitoring, prevention and maintaining “wellness” in future using everything from wearables to smart software.

As with most things, consumers are going online to learn more about the explosive trend. And where do these searches take consumers? Usually social media.

So we’ve researched the topic of self-tracking healthcare devices on the platform to show you how it can help us understand consumer interest and awareness around different health areas. What motivates consumers to take action to improve their health, and what can stand in their way. To identify the key benefits and ingredients to feed into product innovation and marketing.

Overall, we conclude that:

  • Educate the customer base for untapped potential. There is a lack of brand leadership in this space. Specific brands of healthcare devices are rarely mentioned, indicating that no company has so far monopolised the healthcare tracking market or created particularly loyal consumer followings. Create educational and informative content to educate users and expand the market.
  • Personalise, personalise, personalise. Many struggle with information overload from their devices and others have developed a deep emotional attachment to them. To make the device feel even more like an extension of the consumer themselves and avoid stressful superfluous tracking metrics, make it easier for the consumer to widely customise their device.
  • Consumer health communities are budding. Brands can join the online health communities by creating relevant and sensitive content, thereby showing concern for users’ well-being and forming relationships with them.
  • Consumer motivation comes in many shapes. Brands would do well to try to dig deeper to understand what makes each user tick, enable them to personalise their setup accordingly, and create marketing content that reflects an understanding of each motivational segment.
  • Help consumers combat negative feelings of inadequacy. Many struggle with feeling self-conscious about age and size, or reporting a lack of control. Brands can create inspirational campaigns that emphasize that no matter the starting point, healthy living is possible.

Let’s dive into the details.

Body & mind

Underused potential

A wide range of users are drawn to the self-tracking world. They are an eclectic mix of early adopters, fitness freaks, technology evangelists, personal-development junkies and patients suffering from a wide variety of health problems.

Overall, we see that tracking for fitness currently dominates social media conversations. Self-tracking for health concerns, relating to, for instance, heart rate and glucose monitoring or long covid, trails in comparison.

Key takeaway for brands: this suggests there is a big room for healthcare companies’ educating consumers about the benefits of healthcare self-tracking.

Body: Know thy self

Many commentators expressed a keen interest in wanting to learn more about their bodies and specific factors that impacted it.

Consumers are evidently interested in the interplay of various physical health areas, such as sleep, blood pressure, heart conditions and diet. Brands that can track multiple areas could do more to pedagogically explain to consumers how behaviour in one area affects the other. This would help users collect insights on one single gadget, rather than trying to decipher for themselves using multiple self-tracking devices.

The app ZOE was especially popular for those wanting to understand how different health areas interacted. In this post, for instance, a man uses a Zoe blood glucose monitor to learn about how sugar spikes and various test diets negatively impact his physical health and moods.

In a similar post, a commentator writes of how he monitors the impact of alcohol on his heart rate and sleep quality.

 

Key takeaway for brands: Brands can provide information on factors that can impact health so users can use the data they collect more meaningfully.

Mind: Emotions at the forefront

Posters often expressed strikingly similar emotions and sentiments when discussing health tracking devices. 2 emotions in particular were especially common to the user experience: a feeling of lack of control and self-consciousness, typically relating to age or body size.

Lack of control:

  • Many users reported or alluded to feeling a lack of control in their own lives. By tracking various health metrics, many gained a sense of control over their health, as they are actively taking steps to manage their condition.
  • Posters often joked about sleep deprivation, seemingly as a way to respond to the lack of control and balance in their lives. Data from sleep trackers were used to confirm feelings of fatigue – as if to validate and excuse daily inadequacies stemming from tiredness. This is particularly common among younger users.

 

 

 

Age or size-related self-consciousness:

  • Many were self-conscious about needing tracking devices due to increasing age. Self-deprecating and jokey hashtags often accompanied these posts. These posters tended to be middle-aged or entering middle-age.

In this video, for example, a man calls himself an “old fart” and describes how he now uses sales to purchase health devices.

https://twitter.com/126700812/status/1547215040360620037

 

Similarly, in this post a user creates a blood pressure spreadsheet because they are supposedly on a “slow march to death”

  • Many users had similar self-esteem issues around their body size – especially if they used self-tracking to lose weight. Apps that reminded posters that their body type was problematic and needed drastic change tended to make them self-conscious.

In this video, for instance, we see a user delete an app for making them self-conscious of their weight, which they already felt bad about.

In this post, a user gives a similarly sarcastic response to an app telling them that their heart and weight need to be improved

 

Key takeaway for brands: Considering the very common feelings of a lack of control and self-consciousness, brands can create effective campaigns that emphasize that no matter the starting point (age, body size), healthy living is possible. To avoid feelings of inadequacy, it is better for healthcare devices and apps to focus on the future and positive feelings around users’ achieving their health goal, rather than reminding them of their current, supposedly ‘inadequate’ health state.

Mind: Information overload

Many expressed frustration with health tracking devices, particularly in relation to a lack of personalization and ability to meet the user’s individual needs.

In one post, for instance, we see a user message Tim Cook directly to express frustration with irrelevant features on Fitness app, arguing that they are being prioritised over relevant ones.

https://twitter.com/15262115/status/1549884502792704003

In another post, the user singles out one health tracking metric in particular – the walking steadiness feature – and asks why it exists when they obviously don’t need it.

Key takeaway for brands: One size does evidently not fit all. Make it easier for the consumer to customise their device, so they can adjust it depending on their health profile, goals, level of ambition and interest in numbers.

We’ve seen some users express an interest in personalising watch straps, while others have requested that fitness apps pair with a music service to allow them to use music as a tool to prompt users. Consider all options. Users are looking for as many alternatives as possible.

Mind: users’ emotional attachment to gadgets

We rapidly noticed how social media users spoke about their tech health devices using language that signalled emotional attachment. They used words like ‘grateful’, ‘companion’, ‘supporter’, ‘trusted’, ‘life-saver’, ‘life-coach’ and ‘old faithful’ to describe their devices – clearly associating them with distinctly human characteristics and relationship dynamics. As gadgets, such as smartphones, tablets, and laptops, have become an integral part of our daily lives, we see how we often develop an emotional connection to them.

In this video, for instance, a user describes their My Fitness Pal app as a “friend” and “life companion”:

Others describe how personally dependent they have become on their self-tracking devices without necessarily using specific emotional words to describe the attachment. Most of the time, this is done by describing the tracking device as inseparable to the user and their lives.

This user, for instance, expresses how he won’t even take his the Apple watch off on his wedding day.

In this post, we see another poster similarly say how he “could not function” without his Apple Watch.

Key takeaway for brands: One reason for this emotional attachment is the personalization that these gadgets offer. Brands can take this relationship building one step further by allowing individuals to customize their gadgets with themes, wallpapers, and other personal touches that make the device feel more like an extension of themselves. This customization can create a sense of ownership and attachment to the device.

Maintaining motivation

We found that people use healthcare devices primarily to maintain motivation. It came in many forms, but the top 5 we saw were:

  1. Taking back control: By tracking various health metrics, many felt they could gain a better understanding of their body and identify areas where they may need to make changes to improve their overall health and well-being.

  1. Achievements take centre-stage: self-tracking healthcare devices can provide a sense of accountability and motivation. When individuals are able to see the progress they are making towards their health goals, it can provide a sense of accomplishment and motivation to continue making positive changes.

Logging numbers often made success feel more tangible to users. Here, for instance, we see how one patient found the data logging function of their health conditions very comforting:

  1. Keeping health conditions at bay: Self-tracking healthcare devices can also be used to monitor specific health conditions or chronic illnesses. For example, a person with diabetes may use a blood glucose monitor to track their blood sugar levels and adjust their diet or medication accordingly. Similarly, a person with high blood pressure may use a blood pressure monitor to track their readings and make lifestyle changes to lower their blood pressure.

Here is a user tracking metrics associated with long Covid:

  1. Lovin’ the encouragement: Some liked the direct positive reinforcement, such as when wearables sent notifications like ‘you smashed it!’.

  1. Helpful reminders: Many people liked the prompters and reminders that kept them on track – even if they also felt massively guilty when they didn’t adhere to them.

Key takeaway for brands: With the wide range of reasons that motivated consumers, brands would do well to try to dig deeper to understand what makes each user tick, thereby enabling them to personalise their tracking experience. This could, for instance, involve set questions about goals, preferences and motivations, posed in the device set-up stage.

Brands should also create marketing content that reflects an understanding of each motivational segment. It could involve creating marketing campaigns that target, appeal to,  and represent each motivational ‘group’ in an effort to expand the consumer market.

Banding together: health communities online

Social media platforms have allowed users with health conditions to identify others who have experiences with the same chronic health condition. They are able to reach out for help, give advice, and provide mutual support to each other.

We see two health communities that are especially active on social media: those with Covid or Long Covid, or those with diabetes.

Covid/ Long Covid:

  • In this community, users elaborate on their personal experiences with COVID.
  • A lot of advice is given over the specific devices that can be used to monitor symptoms and where to get these devices.
  • A lot of the comments focus on offering sympathy and validation to others’ who struggle.

In this post, for example, we see a user validating another user’s struggle with COVID symptoms at night and suggest that they get a pulse oximeter to check their oxygen levels.

And in this video, a Twitter user shares how a blood pressure monitor allowed them to determine what was causing the dizziness they felt from COVID.

Here we also see a creator highlight the Apple Watch as a specific device that allowed them to monitor their heart rate before and after they got COVID and make comparisons.

Diabetes: 

  • In this community, most posters have had diabetes throughout their life and want to share new ways they are dealing with this chronic condition.
  • Posts include mentions of specific devices they have tried or are interested in trying.
  • The hashtag #DiabetesAwareness is commonly used, suggesting that these devices provide a means for this community to educate others about their condition.

In this video, for example, a user shares how they feel technologically advanced after starting to use an app to track blood glucose and expressing a desire to try the Insulet Omnipod.

 

In this TikTok, we also see a user show off their new Dexcom One and their personal experience with it after using it for a month. Specific details are given about its features, how it actually looks on them, recommendations, and how it compares to other devices. The need to find the right device for the user, and how this can be “life changing,” is stressed.

@coffeeandmakeupbyleann

Dexcom One Update: After using this diabetes management device, I have some thoughts. This is my experience! #type1diabetes #typeonediabetes #typeonediabetic #diabetes #diabetic #diabeticwarrior #diabetesawareness #dexcomone #dexcom #dexcomsensor #cgm

♬ original sound – Leann

Just as we see communities form around specific chronic healthcare conditions – notably Long Covid and diabetes – we also see connections form among users discussing more specific symptoms.

Users will often discuss and recommend a device to deal with a specific issue. These tweets are often part of longer threads and conversations, as opposed to just a single reply. That way, an extensive dialogue with many engaged parties often emerge.

This post, for instance, shows a user with hypertension explaining how incorporating a blood pressure monitor into their life allowed them to monitor their blood pressure and lower it to a healthy level.

And in this tweet, a poster with asthma thanks another user for reminding them of their pulse oximeter and to check their oxygen levels.

Key takeaway for brands: Brands can join the online health communities by creating relevant and sensitive content, thereby showing concern for users’ well-being and forming relationships with them.

With the increasing prevalence of chronic diseases, healthcare is becoming more focused on proactive and personalized care that takes into account an individual’s unique needs and circumstances.

Our analysis shows that brands can prepare for this consumer revolution by:

  • Educating the customer base. There is a lack of brand leadership in this space. Specific brands of healthcare devices are rarely mentioned, indicating that no company has so far monopolised the healthcare tracking market or created particularly loyal consumer followings. Create educational and informative content to educate users and expand the market.
  • Personalise, personalise, personalise. Many struggle with information overload from their devices and others have developed a deep emotional attachment to them. To make the device feel even more like an extension of the consumer themselves and avoid stressful surpurlous tracking metrics, make it easier for the consumer to widely customise their device.
  • Consumer health communities are budding. Brands can join the online health communities by creating relevant and sensitive content, thereby showing concern for users’ well-being and forming relationships with them.
  • Consumer motivation comes in many shapes. Brands would do well to try to dig deeper to understand what makes each user tick, enable them to personalise their setup accordingly, and create marketing content that reflects an understanding of each motivational segment.
  • Help consumers combat negative feelings of inadequacy. Many struggle with feeling self-conscious about age and size, or reporting a lack of control. Brands can create inspirational campaigns that emphasize that no matter the starting point, healthy living is possible.

To find out how brands can use social media data for better business insights, like in this study, sign up to our newsletter or schedule a chat with us.

By: Louise Alestam, Tiffany Teng and Cho Tsang

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