Personal Health Devices and Apps

I started using a FitBit to track my steps about 2 years ago. It was a hand-me-down from my wife who no longer needed it (she upgraded to an iWatch). At first I didn’t really want to use it, but I soon found myself working hard to achieve my goal of 8,000 steps a day (a modest target). Now that it’s two years later, I’m still using my FitBit, but I’m not as diligent about entering all my data into the app anymore. It’s basically become a fancy step-tracker.

Despite only using one feature of it, I still find the device valuable. It’s become part of my weekly routine. I look at how many steps I’ve done (not done) and I adjust my activities to try and make up the delta. In the summer, I find myself over-achieving the step goals. In the winter I’m apparently a hibernating bear.

Over time I have come to realize what many already know – that the step count is not extremely accurate. It’s in the right ballpark, but there are many days when it looks like I’ve achieved my step goal, when in fact I’ve been wiping counters or washing a lot of dishes. For me accuracy is not important. I’m okay with it being off by several hundred steps. But I know I’m just a casual user, not an athlete training for a big event. For those types of users I can see why accuracy is very important.

Of course, it’s one thing to count steps. It’s totally something else to monitor glucose levels, blood pressure, heart rate and other vitals. There, accuracy is much more important. It wasn’t long ago when monitoring vitals meant bulky machines that cost thousands of dollars. Now there are devices and smartphone add-ons that can do the same thing for less $100.

Dr Eric Topol @EricTopol is a big proponent of smartphone apps, and other simple devices that can take the place of expensive medical equipment. If you’ve ever heard him speak on stage you’ll know that he has dozens of innovative devices in his presentations. It was in one of his keynotes that I learned about the AliveCor EKG.

As devices get more and more sophisticated, I can foresee the day when we might not need to go to a lab or a doctor’s office to routine tests done. We can do it with the devices we have at home – whether it is on our wrist, sewn into our clothes or in our pockets. This got me thinking…should doctors be concerned about this? Or is this a good thing for patients and physicians alike?

Some of the devices available today are still “crude” by medical standards, but they are getting better. More importantly, they are gaining the trust of end users. With simple interfaces, the ability to see data over time, and full access to your own data, these apps and devices are becoming the accepted standard. I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that many users trust the data from their apps more than they trust the EHR data that’s made available to them via patient portals.

To me that’s the danger and the opportunity. If Health IT companies and healthcare organizations don’t do more to be the trusted source of health information then they are at risk at being relegated to the sidelines. If they make it too hard to incorporate data from apps and devices into their EHRs then eventually they will be bypassed and THAT information will be incorporated into something consumers use more frequently…and trust more.

Join me Tuesday March 12th at 8:30pm ET (for your local time click here) as we talk about health devices and apps on #HCLDR:

  • T1 What keeps you using a health/fitness device or app? Features? Design? Promised outcomes? Peers?
  • T2 What do you do with the collected data from your device/app? What would you like to do with it? Why?
  • T3 What makes you trust the information from the device/app? People behind it? The results you’ve seen? Recommendation from doctor?
  • T4 Do you think clinicians need to be concerned about competition from the growing sophistication of devices and apps?


Davies, Anna. “Are health apps actually bad for your health?”, BBC UK, 29 May 2018,, accessed 11 March 2019

Leith, Sam. “I never should have trusted that fitness tracker. Now I know why”, The Guardian, 23 August 2018,, accessed 11 March 2019

Palau, Jaume. “How smart, portable medical devices are changing lives”, Spectator Health, 25 October 2018,, accessed 11 March 2019

Abrahms, Sally. “New Technology Could Allow You or Your Parents to Age at Home”, AARP, March 2014,, accessed 11 March 2019

Raths, David. “Live from AMIA iHealth: What Happens When Patients Upload Heart Rate Data Into the EHR?”, hea!thcare innovation, 4 May 2017,, accessed 11 March 2019

Eramo, Lisa. “Wearables and EHRs: 5 essential questions”, Medical Economics, 10 February 2017,, accessed 11 March 2019

Eramo, Lisa. “Do doctors care about your wearable data?”, Philips blog, 18 October 2017,, accessed 11 March 2019

Lynn, John. “Should We Continue Wearing Fitness Trackers?”, Healthcare IT Today, 28 December 2017,, accessed 11 March 2019

Zieger, Anne. “Google and Fitbit Partner on Wearables Data Options”, Healthcare IT Today, 7 May 2018,, accessed 11 March 2019

Anderton, Kevin. “The Future of Medical Technology: Wearable Devices [Infographic]”, Forbes, 31 July 2018,, accessed 11 March 2019

Image Credit

Purchased Shutterstock Image.

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