Wearables Only As Accurate As Smartphone Apps Allow

by Istvan Fekete on February 12, 2015

Wearable devices have entered the spotlight recently because of their ability to track an individual’s physical activity, but they are accurate only to the extent that smartphones allow them to be, according to a new research letter in JAMA.

The study busts one important myth that had started to circulate across the Web claiming that the sensors packed into wearables would be able to track health data and eventually replace certain medical devices.

Well, they don’t, and that’s why Apple didn’t seek the FDA’s blessing for the Apple Watch, for example. While it sounds great to have your wristwatch monitor your blood pressure, certain conditions need to be met in order to obtain reliable data.

The study aims to bust the myth by revealing the lack of reliability of (available) wearables. As it turns out, it doesn’t look good, so you can forget about dumping your FDA-approved medical devices: If you want reliable data, you still need them.

Researchers have stress-tested 10 of the top-selling smartphone apps and devices in the US by having 14 participants walk on a treadmill for 500 and 1,500 steps, each twice (for a total of 56 trials), and recorded their step counts.

“In this study, we wanted to address one of the challenges with using wearable devices: they must be accurate. After all, if a device is going to be effective at monitoring — and potentially changing — behavior, individuals have to be able to trust the data,” said lead study author Meredith A. Case, BA, a medical student at Penn. “We found that smartphone apps are just as accurate as wearable devices for tracking physical activity.”

The results were disappointing: In some cases, the data from smartphones was more accurate than that from the wearable devices.

“Since step counts are such an important part of how these devices and apps measure physical activity, including calculating distance or calories burned, their accuracy is key,” said senior author Mitesh S. Patel, MD, MBA, MS, assistant professor of Medicine and Health Care Management at Penn and an attending physician at the Philadelphia VA Medical Center. “Compared to the one to two percent of adults in the U.S. that own a wearable device, more than 65 percent of adults carry a smartphone. Our findings suggest that smartphone apps could prove to be a more widely accessible and affordable way of tracking health behaviors.”

Simply put: If equipped with the right sensor, your smartphone can replace the function of a wearable device. It can’t, however, replace the comfort of accessing the data at a glance on your wrist.

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Written by: Istvan Fekete. www.digitcom.ca. Follow TheTelecomBlog.com by: RSS, Twitter, Facebook, or YouTube.

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