According to a story from Healio, wearable technology that is meant to help users monitor their health and fitness have continued to grow in popularity in recent years. Most people have probably heard of brands like Fitbit, Apple Watch, and Garmin as household names that develop such devices. Many users have been convinced that these technologies as a valuable, or even essential, component of their efforts to maintain their fitness and health.
But what about using wearable devices to help patients with more serious medical conditions? Patients with illnesses as varied as osteoarthritis and diabetes have been encouraged by doctors to use wearable devices and some rely heavily on their use. With that being said, it still isn’t clear if these devices are gathering the most useful data or if clinicians and researchers are really prepared to use that information in an effective way.
Regardless, the potential benefits are definitely there. A device that encourages patients to exercise can definitely be helpful. The fact also remains that doctors visit with patients intermittently in most cases and a doctor having access to data being transmitted from a wearable device could allow doctors to make informed choices about how to improve a patient’s condition.
This information can help a doctor tell patients where they can improve, but sometimes if a disease exacerbation occurs then physical activity just isn’t possible. This data can sometimes make it seem like a patient isn’t trying when they are actually debilitated. There also isn’t much data out there that is assessing how these technologies are impacting patients with autoimmune or rheumatic illnesses.
Several studies suggest that most people using wearable devices to monitor health or fitness aren’t necessarily seeing improvements. 10,000 steps is a commonly used benchmark used by device users as an ideal achievement for daily fitness, but the significance of this number is unclear. For patients with knee osteoarthritis, 6,000 steps may be more useful to help determine risk of further disease progression.
The fact remains that factors such as cost and the further optimization of devices for use in treating or researching disease are other considerations that should be evaluated. The average Fitbit doesn’t necessarily have all of the features necessary to make it that helpful in research, and an ideal balance of cost and functionality has yet to be struck.