Wearables prove reliable in determining mortality risk in adults, study shows

Data from the accelerometers allowed researchers to correctly rank the mortality risk using 30-40 percent more accuracy than when using data about smoking status or a patient's stroke or cancer history.
By Nathan Eddy
11:03 AM

Wearable health devices can provide an accurate picture of the overall health and mortality risk in older adults, according to a federally funded study by Johns Hopkins Medicine researchers and published in the October issue of The Journal of Gerontology: Medical Sciences.

WHY IT MATTERS
The study indicated wearable devices like fitness trackers, smart health watches, heart rate monitors and GPS tracking devices are more effective than patient surveys and other methodologies in providing key predictors of mortality

Participants in the Johns Hopkins survey wore an accelerometer device at the hip for seven consecutive days, removing it only when sleeping, showering or swimming.

The data researchers received from the accelerometers allowed them to correctly rank the mortality risk using 30 percent more accuracy than when using information about smoking status, and 40 percent better than using information about whether a person suffered a stroke or had cancer.

Recorded data of physical activity was found to be a more accurate method of assessing five-year risk of death in older adults than traditional predictors such as history of cancer or heart disease, smoking, use of alcohol or diabetes.

This suggests doctors can use the data recorded by a Fitbit or an Apple Watch to assess physical activity and intervene to increase it as a potential way to improve the patient's health.

Furthermore, the researchers noted wearable technology could also increase the performance of mortality risk prediction.

THE LARGER TREND
As Google officially announced its long-rumored acquisition of Fitbit on Friday, the tech giant is sold on the clinical integrity of wearables and the data they generate – and what that data can do to help hospitals and health systems drive outcome improvements and boost value-based care for their patients.

The Johns Hopkins study also arrives as a survey of more than 3,000 health and fitness pros conducted by the American College of Sports Medicine indicates wearable tech will be the top trend in fitness in 2020.

An October report from The Manifest, which surveyed more than 500 wearables users, found more than a third of respondents (38%) said they felt tracking exercise was the primary health benefit of using a wearable, with more than a quarter (26 percent) using the devices to prioritize monitoring heart rate and other vital signs.

Moreover, as data collected from computer hardware becomes more valuable than the hardware itself, traditional makers of diagnostics and medical devices should be partnering with developers of sensors and analytics tools, according to a September report from Deloitte.

That study also suggests more and more healthcare technology organizations will be partnering with consumer technology companies in the years ahead, as traditional hardware vendors start to work more closely with developers of wearable devices for fitness and wellness tracking

ON THE RECORD
"People can overestimate or underestimate on surveys how much and when they move, but wearable devices provide accurate data that cuts through the bias and guesswork," said Jacek Urbanek, assistant professor of medicine at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and a member of the research team, in a statement. "The technology is readily available and relatively inexpensive, so it seems feasible to be able to incorporate recommendations for its use into a physician's practice." 

Nathan Eddy is a healthcare and technology freelancer based in Berlin.
Email the writer: nathaneddy@gmail.com
Twitter: @dropdeaded209

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