The most popular fitness tracker brands are slowly changing the way medical research is done by helping research to measure physical activity and engage with patients in a new way.
Earlier today, Fitbit and Fitabase, a research platform, have announced that their technology has been picked up by many researchers to help further medical studies. Over the last 4 years, Fitabase has collected over 2 billion minutes of Fitbit data on behalf of their research customers. Such data has been used for studies by Johns Hopkins University, Northwestern Medicine, the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, and the University of California San Diego to name a few.
“Historically, measuring participants’ activity, sleep, and heart rate data over significant periods of time has been logistically difficult to collect and costly to measure,” said Aaron Coleman, CEO of Fitabase.
“Fitbit’s consumer-friendly technology provides our customers with an accurate, meaningful way to capture 24/7, real-time data so they can design innovative study protocols in ways not possible before.”
Earlier this year, MobiHealthNews estimated that there are over 20 in-progress clinical trials using Fitbit activity trackers. The trials deal with a wide range of health conditions including diabetes, cancer, cystic fibrosis and arthritis. Its not really surprising to see researchers tap into the wealth of data produced by activity trackers, as they are reasonably accurate, user friendly and inexpensive.
Before the advent of fitness trackers, research studies relied on self-reporting by patients. This is, of course, subject to bias and other measurement error. An interesting stat comes from the National Health and Examination Survey. Apparently 62% of those living in the US believe they are meeting the official Physical Activity Guidelines, whereas objective accelerometer data shows that only 10% acutally meet the guidelines.
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Fitbit and other activity trackers allow researchers to continuously capture patient vitals data. Many researchers struggle with study recruitment and retention, and wearables help to resolve this problem and improve compliance rates among research participants.
The best selling activity tracker manufacturer, Fitbit, obviously has a fan base beyone those looking to monitor their wellness and count steps. And this is a good thing. Wearables represent a huge opportunity to gather data and make clinical trials more efficient and convenient for participants.