Should We Continue Wearing Fitness Trackers?

Posted on December 28, 2017 I Written By

John Lynn is the Founder of the HealthcareScene.com blog network which currently consists of 10 blogs containing over 8000 articles with John having written over 4000 of the articles himself. These EMR and Healthcare IT related articles have been viewed over 16 million times. John also manages Healthcare IT Central and Healthcare IT Today, the leading career Health IT job board and blog. John is co-founder of InfluentialNetworks.com and Physia.com. John is highly involved in social media, and in addition to his blogs can also be found on Twitter: @techguy and @ehrandhit and LinkedIn.

Wired recently published an article that says “Science Says Fitness Trackers Don’t Work. Wear One Anyway.” No doubt they chose the headline to cue off of the word science in our political world. However, their article lacked substance as to why people should wear a fitness tracker even though we’ve already said with our actions that we’re not interested.

In fact Wired leads off with this in their article:

Our devices, apps, and platforms, experts increasingly warn, have been engineered to capture our attention and ingrain habits that are (it seems self evident) less than healthy.

Unless, that is, you’re talking about fitness trackers. For years, the problem with Fitbits, Garmins, Apple Watches, and their ilk has been that they aren’t addictive enough. About one third of people who buy fitness trackers stop using them within six months, and more than half eventually abandon them altogether.

The follow this up with 2 studies that show that fitness trackers are ineffective but go on to argue that fitness trackers are getting better and so we should keep wearing them.

Needless to say, I’m not convinced and I don’t believe the majority of the population will be convinced either. I’ve long argued that what we really need mobile health sensors to accomplish is for them to become clinically relevant. Once these sensors are clinically relevant, then we’ll all wear them much more. Until then, these fitness trackers and other health sensors will just be novelty items which we discard after a short period (except for the crazy few quantified selfers out there).

It’s really a simple math. As soon as the value of wearing a health sensor outweighs the cost of wearing one, we’ll all do it. I believe that the key to showing that value is to make the data the health sensor collects clinically relevant.

Lately, I’ve seen some patient advocates suggesting that EHR patient portals should really embrace patients uploading their sensor data to the portal. While I think the posture of empowering patients outside of the office is important, there’s very little value for doctors or patients to have them upload their current sensor data. What will change this? That’s right…once the data becomes clinically relevant, then every doctor will want that data to be uploaded. This demand will drive every EHR vendor to implement it. Problem solved. Until then, don’t hold your breath.

What do you think of fitness trackers? Should we keep wearing them? When will health sensors finally become clinically relevant?