FitBit, Apple Watch, Virgin Pulse. Wearable fitness and activity monitoring devices are everywhere these days, and the data they record says a lot about your health.
Or does it?
A 2016 study published in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine found body sensors such as Lifeline and retail wearables to be reliable tools for observing a variety of environmental and fitness indicators. In addition, they are able to reduce prevention and monitoring costs while improving accuracy and timeliness of response, when needed.
Wearable devices and mobile apps can be integrated with telemedicine and telehealth efficiently. For example, Carilion Clinic’s Home Care team uses a compact telehealth monitoring device to track patients’ vital signs, enabling them to manage chronic conditions such as diabetes or hypertension without disruption to their day-to-day lives. This is particularly helpful for rural patients whose primary care provider is far away.
Carilion Clinic Home Care also employs Lifeline Medical Alert to ensure that elderly patients who want to age in place have access to help 24/7 in case of a fall or other emergency. With the AutoAlert option, these life-saving devices worn around the neck will automatically notify monitors, even if the patient cannot activate the device themselves.
More and more, physicians are including their patients’ self-reported data from wearables in their overall assessment of their condition.
“I welcome it because it helps raise awareness of their level of activity and gives us a place to start the conversation with them about increasing activity,” she said. “I don’t rely on them absolutely, but they are better than just recall data.”
Research shows that people tend to think they are eating less and exercising more than they really are. Dr. Polk’s own experience bears that out.
“When I first started using one, I was surprised to find my daily activity was lower than I expected,” she said. “That personal experience has been valuable for talking with patients as well.”
A risk of using wearable tech to monitor your health is relying on it to the exclusion of proper medical care. While your device may tell you your heart rate now, it can’t tell you whether it is too low or too high relative to your overall health and fitness level.
Another risk is the stress these devices can cause. Much like weighing yourself every day when trying to lose weight, looking too closely, too often, at specific numbers on your watch can distract you from your overall fitness goals, and even discourage you from working steadily toward them.
Overall, these devices work best when used in conjunction with a fitness plan developed with your health care provider’s supervision. Talk to your provider about your lifestyle habits and health goals, and let her know which device or app you use to help reach them. Chances are she is using one too.