Be Smarter Than Your Smart Devices: How to Make the Most of Wearables and Health Apps

Be Smarter Than Your Smart Devices: How to Make the Most of Wearables and Health Apps

1573 1046 Bana Jobe

Just because you’re outfitted from head to toe with the latest health tracker gizmos and gadgets, that doesn’t mean you’re getting a huge medical benefit from health apps and so-called “mobile health wearables.” At least, that’s according to a recent Health Affairs study, which found that most health care apps didn’t react like they should have when users’ data signaled something dangerous like high blood pressure.

Here’s what you need to know to make the most of your wearables and health apps.

Tracking Health App Trends

Researchers’ skepticism hasn’t yet, it seems, reached the general public. In fact, the use of fitness and health tracking apps grew by over 330 percent between 2014 and 2017. From calorie counters to sleep monitors, Americans’ use of health apps, heart rate headbands, speed-tracking shoes and more is turning wearable health into an industry that could grow to an $11.2 billion behemoth by 2020.

Despite the legion of fans and five-star reviews on app stores, doctors have started to question how useful (or accurate) all that data might be — especially if the devices are going unsupervised by physicians. And for the most part, they are: Only about 40 percent of people have shared their health care app data with their medical provider.

Be Smart About How You Use Your Health Apps and Devices

Does all this mean you should cross that fitness band or smart watch off your holiday wish list? Not quite. Wearable devices and mobile health care apps can still play a big role in personal health and wellness — if you use the data correctly. Here are some basic guidelines to keep your health app use productive.

  • Use devices for health motivation rather than medical advice. Health apps and wearables aren’t doctors, so they shouldn’t replace medical care. You can rely on pedometers and sleep trackers to motivate you to pursue a healthy lifestyle, but don’t rely on them for health advice. For example, a nutrition app might be a great way to keep tabs on what and when you eat, but go to a nutritionist if you’re looking for detailed dietary information based on your specific needs.
  • Know when it’s time to see a doctor. In a similar vein, if you’re seeing app data that’s in any way concerning to you, stop trying to decipher it yourself and just schedule a visit to your care provider. Only they can diagnose and treat you based on your risk factors and symptoms. This is especially true for metrics like heart rate and blood pressure, which could signal underlying problems.
  • Take the information with a grain of salt. No piece of technology can promise entirely accurate results, so avoid treating the information wearables and health apps give you as gospel. In a 2017 study out of Stanford University, researchers found that some wrist-worn fitness trackers had an error rate as high as 92.6 percent. Take whatever numbers you get as ballpark figures, and don’t be disappointed if you don’t meet your exact goals based on the device or app’s numbers.

Wearables and health care apps are great tools to motivate you toward your best self. If you want to measure your steps or track your calorie intake, by all means defer to your device. But for anything more advanced than that, it’s better to let the human experts handle it.

Bana Jobe

Bana Jobe is an award-winning medical writer with over 10 years of experience

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