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Fitbit In Healthcare: Is More Data Better?

Wed, 07/23/2014 - 10:34am
Kevin R. Campbell, MD

For scientists and researchers who are developing new treatments for disease, data is power. For patients, data can mean empowerment. Devices that track health indicators are readily available and in use to track heart rate, blood pressure, blood sugar and even respiratory rate and body temperature.

In the Wall Street Journal, the medical applications of the Fitbit device are explored.  The Fitbit is a basic pedometer that tracks movement, steps taken, calories consumed and (in certain models) sleep habits.  This device is commercially available for around 100 dollars and was initially embraced by serious athletes in order to improve performance.  Now, according to researchers, these devices may be able to impact health outcomes: both inside and outside of the hospital or health care setting. These impacts may forever change how physicians and health care systems think about managing chronic disease.

As I have mentioned in previous blogs, I firmly believe that smartphone applications for medicine are going to be a part of mainstream medical practice in the coming years.  Providers will prescribe apps just as they do pharmaceuticals.  In the case of the Fitbit device and others like it, data obtained from physiologic monitoring can be used to assess physical fitness and progress towards obtaining specific health goals.  In several recent studies, researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, have found that the Fitbit users who have diabetes are more likely to have better control of their blood sugars and achieve weight loss related goals better than those who do not use the device.  Many patients with type 2 diabetes can better control their blood sugars through reduction in BMI (body mass index) and the data provided from the Fitbit device seems to have a positive correlation with weight loss in this particular patient sample.

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