The role of the Quant Coach

There was a nice discussion about implementation of self-tracking this evening over dinner in Chinatown, after the Habit Design meetup at Rock Health. Attendees included Gary Wolf (@agaricus), Nancy Dougherty (@nancyhd), Ernesto Ramirez (@e_ramirez), and other illustrious folks.

I’ve been thinking for some time that we need to develop a the concept of a Quant Coach.

A Quant Coach helps people implement and improve their self-tracking projects. The QC is knowledgeable about available sensor technologies, self-reporting tools, behavior change methodologies, feedback loops, and interpretation of data. The QC also knows how to interface with the healthcare world, to help patients who want to implement self-tracking projects in collaboration with a medical doctor. Perhaps this role could be a subspecialty for masters-level psychotherapists, health coaches, personal trainers, or just interested laypeople who can be specifically trained.

In a medical context, the Quant Coach would allow a physician to prescribe a self-tracking project to a patient, knowing that a qualified helper would be available to help smooth out the difficulties with acquiring and configuring devices, implementing the self-tracking activities in a real-life context, collecting and aggregating the data, and feeding back results to the patient and doctor. Along the way, the Quant Coach could communicate with the physician regarding any concerns or medical questions that came up.

In this model, the patient would get a lot more ongoing personal attention at a lower price point than they could get from working only with a physician, and I think the chances of overall success would be much higher.

The QC model could be implemented without a physician as well, for people wanting help implementing an independent self-tracking project outside of a medical context.

What do you think a Quant Coach role should include? Could a curriculum and protocols be defined to help with quality control and consistency?

I think that the Quant Coach will be especially important in the early days, while technologies are still rudimentary and successful self-tracking is relatively cumbersome to accomplish. But the process will help better define how technologies need to improve to make this all easier, and increase the spread of the QS culture and ecosystem into new contexts.


Paul Abramson, MD

[quote]What do you think a Quant Coach role should include? Could a curriculum and protocols be defined to help with quality control and consistency?
[/quote]At the beginning curriculums or protocols would be counterproductive.
Get customers and try to help them. Learn what they need and for what they are willing to pay money.
What helps them archive results.

Pattern will emerge. Those patterns can build the foundation for protocols and a possible curriculum.

I guess my point was that there’s a need for non-physician coaches to help people implement self-tracking protocols, in essence making this possible to integrate with medical care in a productive way.

I’m developing this capacity in my own medical practice, using masters-level psychotherapists who have some tech-savvy. This allows patients to get more comprehensive support without paying for hours & hours of their doctor’s (my) time.

Over time I will develop the experience base to better define the role of the coach, develop protocols, etc. But I thought a discussion of what others here thought would be very germane to the process now… especially if any of you have experience helping others implement self-tracking projects.


i love the idea of a quant coach; it’s along the lines of having a personal trainer, but for whatever the client is looking to track + improve. i went to the habit meet-up in sf the other night and heard steph habif speak about private health coaching, which seems to have a lot in common with this.

in my opinion one of the best thing about self-tracking is the ability to completely customize both what’s being tracked and how it’s being quantified, which suggests the benefit of individual consultation over one-size-fits-all solutions. additionally a quant coach would have lots of experience which could help new trackers avoid the common pitfalls which can demoralize new trackers.

Anne Wright (BodyTrack developer) and I will be presenting the results of a self-tracking demonstration project, where a quant coach (and to some extent a quant doctor) assisted 9 participants in designing and conducting individual self-tracking projects, at the upcoming Medicine 2.0 conference at Stanford on September 18. We’re starting to flesh out how a coach can be helpful in self-tracking efforts, and developing some best practices.

Anyone from here who wants to attend the 90 minute session for free, which also includes a panel discussion moderated by Gary Wolf and various other demos and talks, by signing up here:

Hope to see you there!



Hey Paul,

I would love to talk with you about this as I have worked with a number of people on self-tracking projects and am launching a self-tracking learning/cognition study October 1st that should yield some interesting results and shed light about how self-tracking can be used effectively to change behavior.

In the mean time, here are some of the challenges I have faced in helping people implement self-tracking:

  • projects are time-consuming taking many months or even years before patterns emerge
  • it’s difficult to keep people motivated long enough to see the project through
  • the best tools are often expensive and need to be purchased by the client which is a major obstacle
  • the results of some experiments are typically underwhelming and difficult to interpret
  • It’s easier to collect passive data than to collect active data but active data collection allows people to build a better mental model about how they work and how their body responds to various external influences which in turn changes behavior

One solution to the expensive equipment problem would be to rent out equipment like the fitbit, zeo, withings scale, withings blood pressure monitor for the duration of a self-experiment. This would be the easiest way to ensure that people have the device and are properly trained on how to use it. Less work for the patient = more likely to run the experiment.

To solve some of these other challenges I think it makes sense to run classes with people to teach them the basics about self-experimentation and introduce them to the tools and resources they will need to run a good experiment as well as to help them design it.

From a medical standpoint, I like the idea of working with the patient and the doctor. Most doctors, in my experience, have no idea how to interpret patient health data and/or don’t have enough time to go through it (understandably). If the doctor spoke directly with the quantified coach about what they wanted to the patient to learn about, the quantified coach could help design the experiment and send the necessary data back to the doctor.

I’m going to go ahead and stop there. I’m obviously very interested in this and would love to talk with you more about your insights, knowledge and ideas and to help create the framework necessary to make this work. I do think it is possible to get this project off the ground and to change peoples lives for the better and I’m willing to put in the work to make it happen.

Josh Manley

Hi Josh,

Sorry I didn’t see this sooner! I’m sitting here with Mette and Thomas from Mymee, who just mentioned you. Look forward to collaborating on better defining the roles of Quant Coach and Quantified Doctor.



Hey Paul,

Looking forward to it.


Hi Paul and Josh-
Perusing the forum for exactly this kind of a thread - here’s a project that I’ve initiated and would much appreciate your feedback, as well as thoughts from others. It’s very malleable in terms of potential, nothing set in stone. But very much in conversation with your Quant Coach idea:

Adding a Mental Strategies Toolkit to your Data Tracking: (A QS experiment)
Facilitated by Kristin Prevallet, Hypnotherapist and Data Tracker

Still Feeling the charge of the Amsterdam conference, I’d like to pose the question: what are the mental strategies that people use in their data tracking? Before (or after) entering data, taking a chipped placebo pill, or step-counting via fitbit, there is a thought process that gets activated and initiated. I’m curious about that process.

For example, I asked Nancy Dougherty to reveal the cascade of thoughts that came after swallowing her ingeniously designed chipped placebo pills for mood regulation. Her response was that she said to herself: “Do I really want to continue feeling this way?” And then she gave herself 10 minutes to indulge in the unwanted mood before the “pill” effectively changed it.

That’s a great strategy for changing an unwanted state – you don’t need a pill to try it, but certainly the pill helps to seal the deal, and adds an element of play. I’m interested in tracking when you consciously interrupt an undesired state of mind with this kind of mental strategy , and seeing how this pattern-interrupt effects the overall outcome.

If anyone is interested in this approach, send an email to me at I’ll send you a .pdf with five mental strategies you can play with throughout your day. I’ll also send you (via Dropbox) a sleep-augmentation recording that I made with the amazing ambient composer Ambrose Bye.

The mental strategies I’ll be sending you are all from tried-and-true NLP (Neuro Linguistic Programming), Hypnosis, and Energy Medicine techniques. Plus a couple that I have used on myself, and have given to my clients.

You can determine the length of time you try these strategies out (I’d recommend at least one week) and in exchange, you send me your data and a paragraph or so about what you noticed. I’ll compile the results and present them at one of the Spring NYC Q.S. meetups. And will be doing this myself as well.