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Wearables Hype is Wearing Out

By April 27, 2018Commentary

I don’t know why companies feel compelled to oversell the benefits or utility of “innovative” products, particularly those involving information or communication technologies.  The inevitable disappointment may lead to abandonment of products and services that eventually might provide real value to at least a few people.  Maybe fundraising pressures are the cause, or maybe inventors and founders just believe their own BS.  Wearable information collection and communication devices are part of current deluge of products that will “revolutionize” healthcare.  Or not, at least according to research so far, including the latest study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.   (JAMA Article)    For this research the authors tested whether wearables paired with coaching could improve walking outcomes in peripheral artery disease, a growing problem among older Americans and one with debilitating effects on mobility.  The guidelines for care of these patients recommend supervised walking exercise on a treadmill, which often requires travel to an exercise center.  This study utilized a wearable device and telephone coaching to encourage walking activity in the patient’s home.  The primary outcomes were walking endurance, measured by how far the participant could walk in six minutes, and patient-reported responses to standard walking and general functionality and quality of life surveys.

During the first month of the trial, patients had in-person training and had goals set for their walking performance.  After that, the coaching was done via regular periodic telephone calls.  The patients were also equipped with FitBits to monitor their walking and that data was collected and shared.  There was a comparison group which received usual care.  At 3 months and 6 months there was modestly more walking activity among the intervention group participants, but there was no difference at 9 months.  And for the primary outcome of walking distance, there was no significant difference between the intervention and control group, in fact the control group showed slightly greater improvement of walking distance.  And the patient-reported outcomes showed no meaningful difference either, again with the usual care group actually showing better improvement.  Oh well, don’t worry, won’t stop the hypers.

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