Are the data collected from wearables helpful in measuring health outcomes?

by Michael Fronstin | Nov 1, 2016

Interest in wearable technologies continues to accelerate across the U.S. population. Consumers use activity trackers to record their steps taken, heartrate, calories eaten and sleep patterns not only for their health and wellbeing but to lower their risks of developing chronic diseases. Some physicians have begun to recommend wearables to patients to help them better manage their chronic conditions. These devices can help improve communication between patients and physicians as connectivity allows patients to give access of their wearables data to their doctors, encouraging support, encouragement and, when needed, a change in treatment strategy.

Wearables open up a world of possibilities for researchers, especially in the area of health outcomes. Passive data collected by wearable devices can provide the objective data to get to the heart of what might be affecting patients’ outcomes. This is great news for health researchers but leads to two questions: Are the data collected by wearable devices representative of the general population, and do the data have any actual use in measuring health outcomes?

To answer these questions, we surveyed 99 people diagnosed with type 2 diabetes who own activity trackers and compared them with type 2 diabetes patients who responded to the National Health and Wellness Survey.

We found that patients with diabetes who use activity trackers are markedly different from the general population of diabetes patients. Activity tracker users tend to be younger, more affluent and better educated; they’re also more likely to be employed and have a higher BMI than the general type 2 diabetes population. These differences suggest that people who use wearable devices are not representative of the general population, at least not among the diabetes population.

Our research was, however, able to establish associations between activity tracker measures and traditional health outcomes measures, including quality of life.

While the current level of the use of wearable health devices is low overall, it continues to rapidly increase.  Manufacturers are developing devices with features capable of capturing new biometric measures and new opportunities are on the horizon to further understand and identify ways to leverage this information with the hope of improving health outcomes.

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