Wearable trackers useful to docs for surgery recovery

Northwestern Medicine researchers are studying the use of a wearable fitness tracker for patients recuperating from spine surgery, and with promising results physicians believe the technology may lead to a universal recovery evaluation approach.

The research team used Fitbit devices, which they gave to patients four weeks prior to surgery, and then monitored the data for six months after surgery. The pre- and post-analysis provided objective, numerically exact and continuous measurement of functionality, and how much activity is regained during recovery, according to an article published by Northwestern Medicine. The study focused on patients undergoing minimally invasive spine surgeries for degenerative disease and deformity

"This may allow us to predict when a patient will be back to 50 percent activity, 100 percent activity or even 200 percent activity in the future," principal study investigator Zachary Smith, an assistant professor in neurological surgery, said.

Wearables are taking deeper root in healthcare as both physicians and consumers embrace advanced monitoring and tracking capabilities. Research firm ON World predicts that 700 million wearable devices will be shipped in the global market by 2018. The most popular health use of mobile devices is for fitness-related needs, such as tracking physical activity, according to a recent Harris Poll. Forty-three percent of individuals surveyed said they're very interested in embracing mHealth, with another 25 percent expressing mild interest.

The Northwestern research team found that nearly all patients go through a month to six-week period in which activity is decreased. Yet many, just a month from surgery, were back to pre-operative activity levels, according to the article.

While his study focuses on a particular procedure, Smith said that he sees the wearable monitoring approach as applicable to all spine operations.

"We hope to integrate this into our practice so that it becomes a universal and accepted means of evaluating patients and evaluating our outcomes," he said. "Most importantly, we hope to make patients more involved in their own self-evaluation, recovery and spinal health. I strongly believe that a motivated patient will get better results."

Another recent study conducted by the Harris Poll found that a majority of U.S. adults, 56 percent, embrace using a connected device at home to monitor health and share data with caregivers.

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