Study «Quantified Self – Interface between Lifestyle and Medicine»

Cheap sensors in portable devices and an ever increasing number of smartphone applications covering health issues make it possible: the continuous monitoring of the body. «Quantified Self», the quantification of life by means of measurement, transmission and evaluation of data on physical functions, fits well with the concept of «Big Data» in medicine.

The abundance of data should help to acquire knowledge for the early detection of diseases and the optimisation of therapies, and also provide information on which factors might be conducive to good health. But handling health-related data is a sensitive issue and should meet high standards in terms of data protection.

The interdisciplinary study investigates the opportunities and risks primarily in the «Self-Tracking» applications widespread in the lifestyle sector. Of particular interest here are the interfaces with medically-relevant questions and the importance of «Big Data» in medicine. The study intends to show which devices and services are already available, which areas of application are conceivable in the future and which social, ethical, legal and economic issues are associated with such applications.

Project duration:

Begins April 2016, ends autumn 2017


Available at the end of the project

Project mandataries

Manager : Prof. Dr Heidrun Becker, School of Health Professions, Zurich University of Applied Sciences (ZHAW)

Project management TA-SWISS

Project supervisor: Dr Adrian Rüegsegger, TA-SWISS (E-Mail))

Supervisory group / Project team

Supported by:

  • Swiss Federal Office of Public Health FOPH
  • Coordinating body Confederation and Cantons «eHealth Switzerland»
  • National Advisory Commission on Biomedical Ethics NCE

More about the study and the subject

Background material:

Questions raised in the study

Big Data – Big Health:

Also dealing with technology-driven social developments is Ludwig Zeller, lecturer at the Basel Academy of Art and Design Institute of Experimental Design and Media Cultures HGK FHNW. The speculative scenarios that he has developed together with Bernd Hopfengärnter were part of the exhibition «Poetics and Politics of Data», which took place in the summer of 2015 at the House of Electronic Arts (HeK) in Basel. These scenarios tell stories about the possible future consequences of Big Data. Extracts from these visualisations of the future formed the basis of a panel discussion organised by TA-SWISS together with the HeK and the Institute of Experimental Design and Media Cultures HGK FHNW covering the scientific, economic and social opportunities and risks of the explosion of data in the health sector. The cooperative project Poetics and Politics of Data was supported by the Swiss Arts Council Pro Helvetia as part of the key area of «Digital Culture».

The project in brief

«Quantified Self» describes the measurement of physical activities, e.g. distances walked, along with physical functions such as pulse, respiration rate and blood pressure using easily portable devices. Originally mostly intended as an aid for people looking to optimise their sports training, corresponding applications are increasingly available as smartphone apps. They are widely used – mainly with the intention of obtaining pointers relating to health or possible disease risks. The TA-SWISS study aims to examine the current possibilities of «Quantified Self» and to classify the consequences associated with them.