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My Fitbit experience: Lost 27 pounds, gained a lot of questions

Ryan Faas | Aug. 25, 2014
Back in March, I wrote about how Fitbit and Pebble had changed my view of wearable devices, turning me from a skeptic into a promoter. I also wrote about how easy it was for me to to get hooked on activity-tracking as a wellness tool. Although I'd bought my Fitbit to encourage me to be more active, I hadn't really planned on using it specifically as a weight loss solution. I figured I probably would lose some weight, but setting a goal or actively tracking calories wasn't part of my intention, though the Fitbit app does include an excellent database for calorie tracking.

The debate in the medical industry

This brings up important questions about wearable devices that exist at the intersection of fitness/wellness, medical care, and employee or insurer wellness programs, particularly with Apple's HealthKit and similar platforms expected to come to market over the next few weeks or months.

  • What data is useful to individuals both as a motivational tool but also as a way to gauge progress over time?
  • What data is helpful to doctors and other health care professionals?
  • Should apps have the ability to issue alerts to us as individuals, our doctors, or family or support network?
  • How much detailed information to we what our employers or insurers to have about our daily activities?

There are no easy answers to these questions. In part that's because every stakeholder I just described has a very different way that they'll want to use this data.

I don't have a need or interest to look back at how many steps I took on St. Patrick's Day. My doctor doesn't — as long as I'm active and losing weight at a healthy rate, he has no need for that data. A wellness plan coordinator for an employer or insurer, however, would want to see a large aggregated view of my activity levels in order to gauge my fitness or the overall fitness level for members of the plan over a long period of time to know if it represented a sustained effort.

The debate over the usefulness of this data is currently a hot topic in the medical field. With major electronic health record vendors working with Apple, it seems clear HealthKit will allow some users to upload information into their EHR (and Apple is likely to be just the first player in this space). First, these devices must ensure privacy and user control. Second, the industry has to decide whether they offer any actionable data, and if so, how to store it.

That challenge isn't as clear cut as it might sound. My doctor has no need to see data from my Fitbit, but there was a real value in him reviewing my daily blood pressure readings when we trying to find the ideal medication and dose to manage my hypertension.

A physical therapist treating some of my back issues isn't likely to see much value in my Fitbit data, but might find it helpful treating someone with mobility issues. For someone older or special needs living alone, the ability to recognize a potential problem by a lack of activity could mean a great deal.

My Fitbit experience doesn't offer much in the way of answers to these challenges. If anything, it's made me reconsider just how complex they are in large part because how each of us uses a device like a Fitbit or an app that tracks health or fitness metrics will be similar but never quite the same.


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