With a recent lawsuit drawing attention to inaccuracies in heart rate data gathered by Fitbits, do wearable health tracking devices have a place in clinical research? CRI Director Sam Volchenboum and Daphne Kis, writing in TechCrunch, look at both sides of the issue and advocate for a path forward that prioritizes both accuracy and usability.
Wearables and other forms of real-time tracking can transform large-scale studies of disease, giving researchers data that is more extensive and more accurate than what patients are able to remember weeks or months later. For example, this UChicago study of IBD patients uses Fitbits to track physical activity, allowing reseachers to find patterns and identify potential symptom triggers. But as Volchenboum and Kis note, “If we want better devices, we must do a better job of telling manufacturers what kinds of measurements and outputs we need. … Standards and data provenance aren’t sexy, but they are absolutely essential to any compelling future vision of clinical research.”