Ever since the advent of the smartphone, the idea of using commercial portable technology to monitor and improve individual health and fitness has caught the imagination of healthcare innovators. The evolution of new digital health tools has allowed an increase in user engagement and provided a doorway to personal health beyond the professional provider. Phones, smart watches, and dedicated wearables are able to monitor, record, and measure heart rate, steps, blood sugar, and more. They have been built up to a highly personalized level of sophistication.
The technology is available, but the missing component is the clinical studies and results.
With so many different products available to the public, there has been difficulty establishing a baseline for an effective telehealth product. A recent article by Eric Bender provided an excellent summary of research that highlights the challenges of relying on wearables to help people achieve their health goals. Despite all the hype, there is little evidence that people stick to using their health technology, that fitness trackers improve health outcomes, or that people want to share their data from their fitness trackers with their health care providers.
Worse yet, a recent article published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that overweight and obese adults assigned to a standard behavioral intervention lost more weight than those who received the same intervention but were also given a fitness tracker. In this case, using a wearable led to worse health outcomes than not having one.
Technology is a touchpoint where health professionals can reach patients consistently. Both the public and private sector are keen on finding out how these new devices improve public health and behavior, but until then, the effectiveness of each tool is up to speculation.
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