Health experts have been discussing the pros & cons of Apple Watch, Fitbit, and similar devices. While the consensus is that they do more good than harm, they caution that the increasing amount of health data presented to consumers can cause confusion and even anxiety.

In extreme cases, this can lead to people compulsively taking multiple ECG readings per day …

CNET has an in-depth piece looking at the issue. It stresses that the overall picture is positive.

The medical experts CNET spoke with […] believe wearables do more good than harm when it comes to health management.

By making consumers more aware of their overall level of health and fitness, smartwatches and fitness bands can encourage people to do more exercise and improve their diet.

However, there is growing concern that the increasing presentation of clinical data to untrained individuals can lead to confusion – especially as we move toward additional data like blood pressure and blood sugar measurements.

“I do get nervous, honestly, when I see more data types that are more truly clinical being used in a consumer way,” said Dr. Devin Mann, associate professor of population health and medicine at New York University Langone Health. “Because the conditions tied to those data types are a little scarier, and people get scared easier” […]

Dr. Lindsey Rosman, assistant professor of medicine at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine’s cardiology division, has been studying the relationship between smartwatch readings and health-related anxiety […]

“As a researcher, I think it’s a fantastic tool,” said Rosman. “As a clinician in a cardiology clinic in particular, I think it opens the door to a lot of questions and concerns from patients that are currently being unaddressed.”

In one extreme case, a Fitbit user ended up taking up to 20 ECG readings a day, with growing anxiety, because he didn’t understand that a message saying the result was “inconclusive” just meant that his Fitbit wasn’t able to get a good signal.

Companies like Apple and Fitbit do their best to educate users about the meaning and limitations of the data, but many feel that more is needed.

One possible solution could be clinically supervised chatbots that can answer some questions when a wearer’s doctor might not be available, says Mann.

Mount Sinai’s Dr. Zahi Fayad told CNET he would like to see more tools for easily sharing data from these devices with doctors, an option that companies like Apple, Fitbit, Oura and Whoop already offer to some degree today.  

Julie Ask, a vice president and principal analyst at Forrester who has studied digital wellness at length, wants metrics that provide concrete advice. “Telling me that I sleep better when I go to bed at the same time every night? Not an insight,” Ask said. “What we need is insight.” She hopes to see these health apps take other factors into account, such as your first scheduled meeting for the next morning and your current exercise habits, to craft more personalized tips.

The full piece is an interesting read.

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Ben Lovejoy

Ben Lovejoy is a British technology writer and EU Editor for 9to5Mac. He’s known for his op-eds and diary pieces, exploring his experience of Apple products over time, for a more rounded review. He also writes fiction, with two technothriller novels, a couple of SF shorts and a rom-com!

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