Recently, the Pew Internet & American Life Project (the “Pew Internet Report”) reported that nearly 70% of Americans are monitoring one or more health metrics for themselves or a loved one, but only 21% of those are using a technology tool to help them keep track.

Furthermore, of those who are using technology to track health metrics, only 7% are using apps or other tools on a mobile device. In contrast, half of the respondents indicated that they track health metrics “in their head,” and another 34% said they track health data on paper.

I recently had a conversation with Pam Dolan at American Medical News about the Pew Internet Report. She covered the findings in a story titled, “Has mobile health monitoring hit a wall?” Despite the title’s implication, what I conveyed to her is my strong sense of optimism in looking at these numbers. When you realize that 70% of people in the U.S. are currently tracking data related to their health and that only a small percentage of that group are using technology to help, the potential for growth is both tremendous and clear. What’s surprising is that most commentaries on the report have characterized the findings as proof that the digital health market has plateaued.  

People are buying and using digital health devices and apps in record numbers. The concern is that once the novelty wears off users lose interest and, consequently, engagement wanes. This concern in turn has led to a huge focus on providing actionable and meaningful data that actually improves your health.

As Jack Young of Qualcomm Life Fund has commented, the perfect mobile health device is a bathroom scale that records your weight and transmits the information to your computer where it is tracked over time. It’s passive, usable, actionable, and doesn’t require the user to change their routine.

The take away of the Pew Internet Report is not that Americans’ interest in using digital and mobile tools to track health metrics has plateaued, but rather that we are only beginning to learn how to develop the right technologies that will empower us to more actively engage with our health.