HEALTH

Survey: 7-in-10 consumers track health conditions, but only half record progress

BY Michael Johnsen

WASHINGTON — As many as 7-in-10 U.S. adults track a health indicator for themselves or for a loved one, according to a Pew Research Center study released Monday

The Pew Internet survey found that people living with one or more chronic conditions are no more likely than other U.S. adults to track their weight, diet, or exercise routine. They are, however, significantly more likely to track other health indicators or symptoms and this likelihood increases among those living with more than one condition:

  • 19% of U.S. adults reporting no chronic conditions say they track health indicators or symptoms;
  • 40% of U.S. adults with one condition are trackers;
  • 62% of U.S. adults with two or more conditions are trackers;
  • Nearly half (45%) of U.S. adults are dealing with at least one chronic condition; and
  • Of those who are living with two or more conditions, 78% have high blood pressure and 45% have diabetes — two health conditions more effectively managed when people track their own data.

"And one in three caregivers are also tracking health indicators or symptoms," lead researcher Susannah Fox shared in a video interview with Stanford Medical student Joyce Ho.  

Almost half of people who keep track of their progress noted they do so "in their heads." As many as 34% keep a journal of the health data and 21% employ some form of technology to track the data. 

There were significant differences between the 55% of trackers who record their notes in some organized way, such as on paper or using technology, and the 44% of trackers who keep track solely “in their heads," Fox noted. 

People with more serious health concerns take their tracking more seriously. And people living with multiple chronic conditions are more likely to be methodical about collecting their own health data:

  • 45% of trackers with two or more conditions use paper, like a notebook or journal, compared with 37% of trackers with one condition and 28% of trackers who report no chronic conditions;
  • 22% of trackers with two or more conditions say they use a medical device, like a glucometer, compared with 7% of trackers with one condition and 2% of trackers who report no chronic conditions; and
  • At the same time, many trackers living with chronic conditions say they keep the data “in their heads” — 37% of trackers with two or more conditions say they keep their progress notes “in their heads,” as do 48% of trackers with one condition and 54% of trackers who report no chronic conditions.

Half of all trackers update their records or notes only occasionally and most do not share the data with anyone else. One-third of trackers did share records and notes with another person or group, either online or offline. Of those, 52% share with a clinician.

Not surprisingly, trackers who do not take formal notes are less likely than others to say they update their records on a regular basis or to share their progress with someone else.

And trackers with chronic conditions were significantly more likely to report that these activities had an impact on their health. Caregivers and trackers who had experienced a recent, significant health change were more likely than other groups to report an impact. Trackers who keep formal records, such as on paper or using technology, were also more likely than others to report an impact.


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Perrigo introduces new packaging for infant formula

BY Alaric DeArment

GEORGIA, Vt. — Perrigo Nutritionals is introducing new packaging that the company said would make providing nutrition to infants more convenient.

Perrigo Nutritionals, part of Allegan, Mich.-based Perrigo, supplies private-labal infant formulas. The company said the new SmarTub packaging, the result of a $29 million research and development effort, would include AccuMeasure, a scoop leveler for more accurate feedings; CleanPull technology that allows removal of foil liner with one pull; SimpleSlide scoop sortie for less mess; a longer scoop handle for more hygienic scooping; and anti-theft tag compatibility.

"We believe we have advanced infant formula packaging with novelties that will transform the overall user experience for parents," Perrigo Nutritionals general manager Scott Jamison said. "This undertaking began with extensive competitive analysis and consumer research and culminated with the addition of a new state-of-the-art packaging line at our ISO 9001:2008-certified facility in Vermont."


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Johns Hopkins researchers track flu through Twitter

BY Michael Johnsen

BALTIMORE — "Too sick to go to work, but not sick enough not to tweet about it" Twitter users are helping to predict flu trends. Johns Hopkins researchers recently created a Twitter search method that helps differentiate between people merely tweeting about the flu in general and those who are actually sick, the university announced Thursday. The new tweet-screening method not only delivers real-time data on flu cases, but also filters out online chatter that is not linked to actual flu infections. 

Comparing their method, which is based on analysis of 5,000 publicly available tweets per minute, to other Twitter-based tracking tools, the Johns Hopkins researchers reported their real-time results track more closely with government disease data that takes much longer to compile.

“When you look at Twitter posts, you can see people talking about being afraid of catching the flu or asking friends if they should get a flu shot or mentioning a public figure who seems to be ill,” stated Mark Dredze, an assistant research professor in the Department of Computer Science who uses tweets to monitor public health trends. “But posts like this don’t measure how many people have actually contracted the flu. We wanted to separate hype about the flu from messages from people who truly become ill.”

Dredze, who also is a research scientist at the Johns Hopkins Human Language Technology Center of Excellence, led a team that in mid-2011 released one of the first and most comprehensive studies showing that Twitter data can yield useful public health information. Since then, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services last summer sponsored a contest challenging researchers to design an online application that could track major disease outbreaks. 

This winter, as the United States entered an unusually severe and early flu season, Twitter-based flu projections have drawn increasing attention. Many public tweets, such as, “I’m so sick this week with the flu,” can indicate a rise in the flu rate. Collecting enough of these tweets can help health officials gauge the scope and severity of an epidemic.

But the reliability of many computer models can be weakened by too many tweets that point to flu-related news reports and other matters not directly linked to a flu case, according to David Broniatowski, a School of Medicine postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Emergency Medicine’s Center for Advanced Modeling in the Social, Behavioral and Health Sciences. “For example,” he said, “a recent spike in Twitter flu activity was caused by discussions about basketball legend Kobe Bryant’s flu-like symptoms during a recent game. Bryant’s health notwithstanding, such tweets do very little to help public health officials prepare our nation for the next big outbreak.”

To improve their accuracy when using tweets to track the flu, the John Hopkins team developed sophisticated statistical methods based on human language processing technologies. The methods are designed to filter out the chatter. The system can distinguish, for example, between “I have the flu” and “I’m worried about getting the flu."

Another advantage of the Johns Hopkins flu projection method is that it can produce real-time results. By comparison, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which records flu-related symptoms from hospital visits, typically take two weeks to publish data on the flu’s prevalence.

To check the reliability of their enhanced system, the Johns Hopkins researchers recently compared their results to CDC data for the same period. The researchers said that during November and December 2012, their system demonstrated a substantial improvement in tracking with CDC figures as compared with previous Twitter-based tracking methods. “In late December,” Dredze added, “the news media picked up on the flu epidemic, causing a somewhat spurious rise in the rate produced by our Twitter system. But our new algorithm handles this effect much better than other systems, ignoring the spurious spike in tweets.”

The researchers have also used their Twitter data to produce United States maps that document the stark differences between last year’s mild flu season and the much higher incidence of the virus in the winter of 2012-2013. 

“This new work demonstrates that Twitter posts can be used to guide public health officials in their response to outbreaks of infectious diseases,” Dredze said. “Our hope is that the new technology can be used track other diseases as well.”

For a video produced by Twitter about Johns Hopkins’ use of tweets to track public health trends, click here.

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