Millions of consumers are using Fitbits and similar fitness tracking devices to monitor their steps, sleep, heart rates and other vitals every day. They're not the only ones using these health devices, though – medical researchers are using them as well. In a recent press release, Fitbit announced that the devices have been used in more than 200 health studies.
The information gleaned from these devices give scientists an in-depth view of people's everyday activities and their effects on the body. The data collected through Fitbits is generally more accurate, and therefore more useful. As the press release noted, "Researchers often rely on self-reported data, which are subject to recall bias and other measurement errors – especially as related to physical activity and sleep." For instance, in the National Health and Examination Survey, 62 percent of respondents claimed to meet the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans. However, less than 10 percent of those questioned actually meet those guidelines.
When the tracking is up to them, some people will fudge the numbers or go easy on themselves. However, it's very difficult to do that with a device like a Fitbit, and because of its innovative healthcare product design, test subjects don't take it off. This help to ensure accurate readings: A 2015 study published by the American Journal of Preventative Medicine reported that research subjects can be reasonably expected to keep the devices on. In addition, a recent study by the International Journal of Cardiology found the device to be "An accurate and reliable device for wireless physical activity tracking."
Fitbit and medical technology
The announcement comes as the company takes strides to move beyond just fitness tracking and incorporate home medical products and other healthcare devices. This is going to be a major challenge, because unlike their fitness tracking devices, medical devices can be subject to intense regulations. Because the Fitbit is a medical product and not a medical device, its tracking algorithm is not publicly available, and it's not currently held to FDA regulations. While it's still useful in health research, CEO James Park is pushing for involvement in the medical technology field, which will bring new scrutiny but increased opportunities.