The Importance of Starting With Goals in N-of-1 Studies

Front Digit Health. 2020 May;2:3. doi: 10.3389/fdgth.2020.00003. Epub 2020 May 22.


N-of-1 tools offer the potential to support people in monitoring health and identifying individualized health management strategies. We argue that elicitation of individualized goals and customization of tracking to support those goals are a critical yet under-studied and under-supported aspect of self-tracking. We review examples of self-tracking from across a range of chronic conditions and self-tracking designs (e.g., self-monitoring, correlation analyses, self-experimentation). Together, these examples show how failure to elicit goals can lead to ineffective tracking routines, breakdowns in collaboration (e.g., between patients and providers, among families), increased burdens, and even designs that encourage behaviors counter to a person's goals. We discuss potential techniques for eliciting and refining goals, scaffolding an appropriate tracking routine based on those goals, and presenting results in ways that advance individual goals while preserving individual agency. We then describe open challenges, including how to reconcile competing goals and support evolution of goals over time.

Keywords: N-of-1; goals; patient-centered; self-experiment; self-monitoring; self-tracking.