Most docs say health wearables provide little helpful data

Fitbit lineup
So far, wearables aren't providing doctors with useful patient data.

When Permanente Medical Group president and CEO Robert Pearl, M.D., spoke before a healthcare conference last fall, he got a laugh when he joked that doctors make use of Fitbits when they need to buy a Christmas or Hanukkah present for that person on their list who has everything.

In fact, for the majority of doctors the data that Fitbits and other wearable devices can currently track isn’t very helpful, according to Wareable.com, a website that reports on wearable technology.

That might change in the future, as fitness trackers get better at measuring people’s biometrics more accurately over longer periods of time, but when it comes to today’s doctor appointments, most of the data isn’t useful, the report said. 

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Farzad Mostashari, M.D., the former National Coordinator for Health IT who now heads up Aledade, a consultancy focused on accountable care, tracks his own daily steps with his Fitbit. But he's skeptical about the usefulness of wearable health technology. 

"The impact of technology is always overestimated in the short term and underestimated in the long term," Mostashari told SearchHealthIT. A big problem is the lack of interoperability between wearable devices and apps, he said.

Doctors might not find much use for data that tracks a patient’s daily steps, but, for instance, they could find data that monitors a patient’s blood pressure useful. Or wearables that track heart rate and skin temperature could predict an oncoming illness, such as the flu. It may also be useful to track hydration levels, since many complications from childhood illness result from dehydration. There’s also the potential that wearables could track cardiac rhythms, although one study found accuracy varies among wrist-worn heart rate monitoring wearables.

A big wave of wearable devices are expected to hit the market in the next two or three years. However, the healthcare system has to be ready to take the data from wearables and provide solutions. Wearable technology may have the potential to impact the healthcare industry, but that time is not here yet, doctors said.

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