Are Fit Devices Wearable Physicians?


It’s hard to believe January is already behind us, and it’s been over a month since we resolved to make some changes in 2018. Forty-five percent of Americans said their 2018 New Year’s resolution was to lose weight or get in shape, but we all know that’s easier said than done.

As with any goal, accountability is key, and while there are a lot of things we’d rather not keep track of – like how much you spent online over the holidays or all the times you forgot to water your plants this winter – physical activity is a different story. Passing milestones and crushing goals is great motivation to keep exercising. Nearly half of Americans admit a wearable fitness tracker that connects to a mobile device or the internet would make it easier to track their diet and exercise. Fitbit’s 25 million users would agree!

While wearables are great for counting steps and reminding you to get up and move, the real benefits come from some of the more complex features. As wearable technology advances, tracking has moved beyond the basics of exercise. Consumers are now able to use fitness tracking technology to stay on top of their everyday health and wellbeing by monitoring their heart rate, blood pressure, calories burned, quality of sleep and much more.

All that information has to be accurate, right? That’s the trouble physicians are running into – patients trust wearables as they would medical devices. In reality, the measurements consumers have access to aren’t necessarily an accurate indication of their health.

Unfortunately for physicians, while the rise of wearables and the increase in their capabilities has given patients the ability to take control of their health like never before, there has also been a fair share of challenges. One of the biggest hurdles physicians see is not knowing what to do with all the data a fit device tracks. There are so many factors that contribute to each user that standards simply aren’t set for things like how many steps a person should take in a day.

A further complication is the lack of standardization among device manufacturers for the various algorithms that calculate metrics such as sleep quality. Since this data is open to a wide variety of interpretations, a fair number of doctors will opt out of basing a patient’s healthcare decisions off the incomplete information available from a fitness tracker. As technology continues to improve, this will become less of an issue. Though the specific numbers may not influence physician decisions quite yet, doctors advocate for patients using wearables to keep themselves on track with their physical fitness goals.

The real future of wearables for healthcare lies not in the everyday fit device but in medical grade wearable technology. Some of these devices already exist, and their capabilities are life changing. Abbott has developed a small external device to monitor glucose levels in diabetic patients. Medtronic takes this one step further with a device that not only monitors these levels but also dispenses insulin when necessary. 

Another device, VitalPatch, seeks to make hospital visits simpler by using a disposable, wearable biosensor to cordlessly measure eight vital signs and constantly deliver real-time results in a single platform. The key to success with these medical devices is the extreme accuracy with which they deliver results physicians can act upon. They take formerly invasive or inconvenient processes and eliminate the hassle without changing the outcome. 

As wearables continue to increase in popularity and strides are made toward medically accurate tracking, fit devices will help physicians keep their patients healthier in their everyday lives. For now, keep getting all your steps in – but don’t skip your annual physical just yet.


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