Health tracking: Potentials and side effects

Fitness wristbands, trackers, or health apps are part of many people’s everyday lives. The individual and social effects of using these devices were discussed by users and experts at the invitation of ITAS.
Bild einer Smart-Watch
Digital devices that record health data are part of many people’s everyday lives. (Photo: Luke Chesser/unsplash)
Diskussionsrunde mit Menschen an einem Tisch
Discussion about the pros and cons of wearable computer systems for tracking health data. (Photo: Maria João Maia/ITAS)

Bringing people who use consumer health technologies (CHTs) together with experts from the insurance industry, medical informatics, sociology, psychology, and the quantified self movement was the goal of a workshop organized by ITAS on 8 April 2022. The event in Karlsruhe focused on different types of usage, health and fitness tracking as a social trend, but also on the use of CHT data for research.

Pressure of self-optimization

The discussions focused in particular on the risks and side effects that can accompany the personal tracking of health data with fitness wristbands, activity trackers, or smartwatches. Approximately 20 participants identified, among other things, a lack of competencies that lead users to draw false conclusions about their state of health, or the danger of exposing oneself to the pressure of self-optimization in social networks.

Self-care or enforced prevention?

The concept of solidarity in the health care system was also controversially discussed. On the one hand, rewards programs of health insurance companies based on CHT data could strengthen the users’ self-care, on the other hand, there is a fine line between self-empowerment and enforced preventive health care.

When CHT data are used for research purposes – for example, for monitoring health parameters such as heart rate and body temperature during the Corona pandemic – a major concern for participants was co-determination and information about intended uses. Stakeholders from the health sector stressed the importance of access to health data not only for CHT manufacturers, but also for all stakeholders with a vested interest (e.g., the users themselves as well as health professionals). (24.05.2022)

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