Dr. Campbell: How accurate are Fitbits and other wearable devices?

RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — Wearable health-related technologies are becoming more common.

Despite their growing popularity, little has been done to evaluate their accuracy during exercise.  Now, a new study from Cleveland Clinic found that some monitors are better than others.

  1. What is a wearable medical device and how are they being utilized?

Heart rate monitors such as Fitbit, Apple Watch and several others are being used by millions of Americans.  Many use it as part of cardiac rehab—certainly professional athletes and others use very advanced wearable technology to maximize their athletic performances.

  1. Tell us about the newest study on wearables

Researchers at the Cleveland Clinic’s Heart and Vascular Institute tested four different wrist-worn heart rate monitors and compared their accuracy against EKGs and medical quality monitoring equipment used in cardiology offices.

In treadmill tests, the Apple Watch and Mio Fuse were the most accurate.

The other two devices fell short: Basis Peak, which is no longer being manufactured, overestimated heart rate during moderate exercise, and Fitbit Charge HR underestimated heart rate during more vigorous exercise, the study found. All of the devices worked quite well at rest.

Earlier this year, Maggie Newland and I did a similar test in a local gym comparing Fitbit and Apple Watch for accuracy and we found similar findings in our small test.

  1. Based on this new study, how should we use wearables in order to improve health? What does the future hold?

I believe that wearable tech is the future. I think that we have to remember that many of these wearables are not classified as medical devices by the FDA and do not have to undergo rigorous clinical trials. Even so, these devices can provide helpful real time feedback to patients and athletes — steps, resting heart rate, etc. are all very important when training or when in rehab.

It can also provide target HR information when exercising — just know that it is not 100 percent accurate during peak exercise, but it can give you enough information to reassure you that you are exercising where you intend to.

I do think that wearables will only get better. Many companies are now working to produce medical device quality devices. I have a prototype of an EKG that you can do on your phone or on your watch — called AliveCor.

To get in touch with Dr. Campbell, you can head to his website, Facebook page or message him on Twitter.

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