Wearable fitness devices have been a hot topic in health and wellness for a few years now, but what kind of impact have wearables really had on improving health outcomes? Wearable fitness devices can be used to track physical activity, sleep, heart rate, and even provide on-screen workouts. They are most often paired with a smartphone or website to track and store data. There has been a lot of hype about the potential to promote positive health outcomes through using wearables, but a recent study suggests they may not be impacting health as expected.
The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) published a study in September that evaluated the theory that incorporating wearable technology into a weight loss program would yield greater weight loss results. The study was comprised of 471 participants, all following a low-calorie diet and engaging in regular physical activity and group counseling sessions. They also received telephone counseling sessions, text messages, and access to online study materials. After six months, participants were split into two groups. The control group continued a self-monitoring diet and physical activity program using a website to track physical activity. The other group received wearable devices with an accompanying website to track diet and physical activity. The results showed those using the wearable devices did not yield any more weight loss than those in the standard weight loss program; the wearable device group actually lost less weight over 24 months.
Although this study resulted in wearable devices not proving to drive outcomes for weight loss, it should not be concluded that wearable devices are not useful. Wearable devices have proven useful in helping the patient and clinician create a plan of care and track outcomes. Wearable devices are also helpful in providing real-time data and promoting self-management for chronic conditions. Self-monitoring blood glucose meters and blood pressure monitors have been around for a while, but with the ability for the data to automatically upload to a smartphone app or website, it can help drive health outcomes. These programs can provide instant feedback, track patterns, show progress, and can be easily shared with a health care provider. Wearables are likely more helpful when paired with other resources or tools such as a health coach, personal trainer, health care provider, wellness programs, social competitions, etc.
In addition to integration into wellness programs, wearable devices are making their way into clinical settings and are being used to provide more objective data. Geisinger Orthopaedic Institute has started a research program using wearable activity devices to collect real-time data from patients. This data will be used to monitor patient activities along with subjective data collection. The data collected will be used to research what practices are best for recovery and to improve decision-making and health outcomes.
What’s next for wearable devices in health care?
Several technology companies are revealing new wearables that could be used in patient care. Earlier in 2016, Philips introduced a wearable biosensor that would continuously measure vitals such as heart rate, respiratory rate, skin temperature, posture, physical activity, and a single-lead ECG. This biosensor would be connected to software that would send notifications to the clinician or caregiver, which could help with early detection and intervention to improve patient outcomes.
The Biodesign Institute of Arizona State University is conducting a research project called Project HoneyBee. Project HoneyBee is researching how and which wearable biosensors can be used to drive better patient outcomes while reducing health care costs. This project is aiming to validate biosensors as an inexpensive technology that can be useful in a clinical setting and for reducing the costs of chronic disease. Some disease areas already being studied include heart disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), atrial fibrillation, and diabetes.
Although it is evident more research is needed to determine the best way to incorporate wearables into health care to drive better outcomes, many still believe there is a lot of potential and companies are continuing to research and develop new products.
Wearing Wellness on Your Sleeve: How Wearable Tech Is Changing Healthcare Services, Northwestern University School of Professional Studies blog, March 21, 2016
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