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New Fitness Trackers Have Patients Wearing their Heart (Rate) on their Sleeve

Posted on Thu, Dec 18, 2014
New Fitness Trackers Have Patients Wearing their Heart (Rate) on their Sleeve

By Dr. Adam Corley

With the holiday shopping season in full swing, many of us are trying to decide what gifts to get for our friends and family.  Healthcare and fitness items often make it to the top of many people’s wish lists as they prepare for the upcoming year and the resolutions that they plan to make. Even for those who are not necessarily inclined towards exercise and fitness, gifts to encourage or facilitate a healthy lifestyle are often popular.
Over the past few years, there has been an explosion of electronic items that collect data about lifestyle, fitness, sleep, and other health metrics. Many of these small devices are wearable and transmit data to smartphones or computers. Consumers, personal trainers, and even physicians can use the data to make healthcare, fitness, and lifestyle adjustments.
Practice Fusion, a cloud-based electronic medical record company, asks a survey question of their 20,000 physician consumers every Friday. Recently, the site queried doctors about whether their patients had asked about incorporating data from wearable devices or other healthcare apps into their medical record. Of the 353 doctors who participated, 15% responded yes. 
In the likely event that you're presented with data captured from electronic health trackers, use the tips below to provide patients with reasonable expectations for use of this information.

Here are some ideas of what can really be achieved with wearable fitness trackers

  • Understand your baseline.  Most of us aren’t really aware of how our daily activities add up.  How much are you really on the move? Are you sedentary more than you realize? A fitness tracker can provide a decent idea of what your baseline activity looks like.
  • Track and balance your calories.  There is a tendency to overestimate our caloric output and underestimate how many calories that we take in. Tracking calories burned both with routine daily activity and with exercise can give you the perspective that you need in order to plan meals, work-outs and activities.
  • Understand how you sleep.   Many wearable fitness devices provide data about how long you sleep, how often you move or get up, and some even try to estimate how long you spend in each stage of sleep. Though there is some question about the usefulness of the data about restlessness and movement, making sure that you get enough sleep is clearly beneficial.
  • Motivate yourself.  Knowing that your activity is being tracked and recorded can be very motivational. Aiming for your daily and long term goals and tracking them with your device can inspire you to stick with your fitness plan.
  • Track your progress. After you understand your baseline activity level and calorie output, set your fitness goals, make sure that you’re sleeping enough, and appreciate your new found motivation, you can track your fitness progress. Viewing your successes and set backs over time allows you to adjust your diet and activity to maximize and appreciate your success.

While some doctors don't believe there is a place in the hospital for fitness trackers, the fact that 15% of patients are currently using these devices and presenting the data to their doctors means there needs to be an awareness by physicians about how to handle the data while being honest about its usefulness and its limitations, all while making sure the patient feels like a partner in their care and not shut out of the process. It may not help us cure any major diseases, but by following the guidelines above, hopefully you and your patients can have meaningful conversations about how health trackers can help facilitate a healthy lifestyle, which could prevent a few.

Adam Corley, MD, FAAEM, FACEP, is a Regional Medical Director for EmCare and practices at Brazosport Regional Health Center in Houston, TX.