Mobile health wearables lack validation, data verification

Physicians and medical practitioners may be excited about mobile health devices and apps, but they're far from ditching longstanding healthcare strategies in favor of wearables--with many citing a lack of validation that data collection is secure and that the devices in play are working as expected.

"We can't make the leap that just because this data is coming in digitally that it's accurate," Michael Blum, M.D., a cardiologist at the University of California, San Francisco, tells NPR. Validating technology is the job Blum has taken on at UCSF. He leads a new team investigating, assessing and analyzing new healthcare tools and products.

While Blum says he is open to new healthcare technology, innovations that crank out mountains of data without any context, or piles of monitoring logs of vital signs missing needed comparison or reference points don't prove very worthwhile, another doctor shares with NPR.

Paul Abramson, a primary care doctor and engineer, and a self-admitted gadget fan, tells NPR about a patient who arrived bearing Excel sheets of data collected on various wearables the patient was using to track health issues and activity.

"Going through it and trying to analyze and extract meaning from it was not really feasible," Abramson says.

Health-based wearables are expected to make big leaps this year, given consumer demand and the proliferation of devices that monitor and track everything from heart rate to a user's calorie intake.

"People will ... own multiple dedicated wearables, as well as wearables with multi-functionality," Johan Svanberg, Berg Insight senior analyst, told FierceMobileHealthcare earlier this month.

Wearables already are advancing in functionality and form factor, moving off the wrist to other body parts--including ears. They're even expected to become ingestible at some point due to tiny sensors and chips that can be embedded into a pill.

Abramson is not a lone voice when it comes to wariness about mHealth wearables and data accuracy. Validation and greater insight on proven results is needed before the healthcare field embraces such technology, according to Steven Steinhubl, digital medicine program director at Scripps Translational Science Institute.

For now, Abramson says, he'll continue to rely on traditional verified assessment and diagnostic approaches and tools that have been proven to be valuable and useful.

"I get information from watching people's body language, tics and tone of voice," Abramson tells NPR. "Subtleties you just can't get from a Fitbit or some kind of health app."

For more information:
- read the article at NPR

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