Patient Engagement

Connected Health highlights paradoxes in personal devices

Oprah Winfrey’s investment in Weight Watchers might inspire some people to change their habits, but how many have personal chefs like she does?

Sick or bored of your wearable fitness tracker already?

There are so many paradoxes in the world of personal health devices, as attendees at the 12th annual Connected Health Symposium heard Thursday.

Those who are healthiest — and perhaps a few “worried well” people — are most likely to have wearable health devices. Those who could benefit the most from such products either don’t have or don’t use them, said Lisa Gualtieri, a digital health researcher at Tufts University School of Medicine in Boston.

In fact, so many people are abandoning their fitness trackers that Gualtieri had a booth in the exhibit hall to collect unwanted devices for a research project she’s conducting. RecycleHealth will employ the donated trackers for fitness programs for low-income people in need of lifestyle changes.

Speaking of lifestyle changes, Tara Montgomery, who oversees health research at Consumer Reports, was asked about the news from earlier this month that Oprah Winfrey had bought a 10 percent stake in Weight Watchers.

“You can be inspired by Oprah,” Montgomery said. But will people understand what it means to make meaningful lifestyle changes? “Not everybody has a personal chef,” Montgomery quipped during a session called, “Wearables, Apps, Social Media: Flash in the Pan or Here to Stay?”

As for social media, Ceci Connolly, managing director of the PricewaterhouseCoopers Health Research Institute, discussed research showing that people will share data from health and fitness devices with healthcare professionals but not with friends. That’s pretty much the opposite of how social media usually works.

Gualtieri and fellow panelist Sherry Pagoto, co-founder of the University of Massachusetts Center for mHealth and Social Media, agreed that there is a gap between the worlds of technology and medical practice.

“Clinicians also need to be involved in the innovation process,” Gualtieri said.

Pagoto took this a step forward, saying that working with new technology should be part of medical education.

She noted that while plenty of physicians have smartphones and tablets, more than a few still carry around flip phones and chart patient encounters on paper. “What comes with that is major skepticism” toward technology, Pagoto said.

Image: PricewaterhouseCoopers Health Research Institute