Should We Continue Wearing Fitness Trackers?

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?

About the author

John Lynn

John Lynn

John Lynn is the Founder of the HealthcareScene.com, a network of leading Healthcare IT resources. The flagship blog, Healthcare IT Today, contains over 13,000 articles with over half of the articles written by John. These EMR and Healthcare IT related articles have been viewed over 20 million times.

John manages Healthcare IT Central, the leading career Health IT job board. He also organizes the first of its kind conference and community focused on healthcare marketing, Healthcare and IT Marketing Conference, and a healthcare IT conference, EXPO.health, focused on practical healthcare IT innovation. John is an advisor to multiple healthcare IT companies. John is highly involved in social media, and in addition to his blogs can be found on Twitter: @techguy.

1 Comment

  • John, scales don’t work and are inaccurate both at home and at the doctor’s office, should we stop weighing in? There’s no value in having an inaccurate weight or calculating BMI (which has been wholly discredited recently) and yet most EMR if not all EMR systems do so and I have to confirm, this is a MACRA/MIPS measurement (it was in MU I). I could wax hours over measures that are inaccurate and are widely used in many disciplines, not just medicine. I won’t waste your time or this space. The value in knowing, for medicine, the data in trackers is the same value as calling out BPs every 30 seconds – TRENDING. How many nurses have screamed that EMRs don’t help them trend patients? If I’m a doctor treating an obese diabetic, I want to see an upward trend in daily walks and a downward trend in Beats per minute and if the tracker can track more and show me more trends, I died and went to heaven.

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