Smartwatch-based Fitness Apps Gaining Popularity Over Other Fitness Wearables such as Fitbit. Will This Affect the Data Clinical Laboratories See Streaming Their Way?

Consumer demand for health trackers combined with other smartwatch capabilities is driving a trend away from simple health trackers and toward more complex devices, such as the Apple Watch, for their more powerful capabilities

It is still an open question as to whether clinical laboratories will experience an onrush of patient test data streaming at them from healthcare consumer portals and mobile devices. The popularity of wearable fitness/medical technology has been widely touted in the media. Predictions have been that these devices—when coupled with smartphone and tablet applications (apps)—would generate substantial volumes of digital patient data that would be useful for medical laboratories to capture and add to the clinical lab test data of the patients they serve.

But will these predictions of a flood of data from wearable devices become reality? Is this a trend about which medical laboratories should be concerned? Recent statistics provide some insight into these questions. For example, the sales numbers for wearable devices are significant.

Smartwatches Gaining Ground in Wearable Fitness Market

In 2016, 102.4 million wearable devices were sold, which was a 25% increase over the previous year, according to Smart Insights, a publisher for marketers. Now, several sports apparel companies, such as Adidas and Under Armour, are either launching smartwatches with health/fitness-related software and activity trackers, or eliminating their digital fitness business units altogether.

And according to MobiHealthNews, “[today’s] landscape looks awfully different.

“I think the industry is still struggling to find real, meaningful points of reference with consumers,” Dan Ledger, Principal and Founder, Path Collaborative, a Massachusetts consulting firm, told MobiHealthNews. “You hear anecdotes of people who had Fitbit (NYSE:FIT) and lost weight. But it hasn’t really been a success as a market product like a smartphone—like a lot of these companies were expecting when they were reading the tea leaves four or five years ago.”

For example, Adidas reassigned employees working in the fitness watch and sensor-enabled footwear departments to other areas, according to the Portland Business Journal. “We are integrating digital across all areas of our business and will continue to grow our digital expertise but in a more integrated way,” an Adidas spokesperson told Just-Style.

And, Nike announced its intention late last year to abandon the wearables market altogether. “It wasn’t authentic to who we were,” Jordan Rice, Senior Director of Nike NXT Smart Systems Engineering, told MobiHealthNews.

Meanwhile, Under Armour announced in 2017 that it planned to eliminate the UA HealthBox, a wearable device that offered a connected activity tracker, heart rate monitor, and smart scale tools, according to MHealth Spot. Instead, the publication reported, Under Armour was partnering with Samsung on fitness apps:

  • MyFitnessPal;
  • MapMyFitness;
  • Endomondo; and,
  • UA Record.

More Consumers Strapping on Smartwatches

Fitbit recently released the Fitbit Ionic Watch. According to Fitbit’s website, features include:

  • Personal coaching;
  • Heart rate monitor;
  • All-day activity tracking;
  • Sleep stages monitoring; and more.

The smartwatch may be the new “smart” way to go, compared to simple activity trackers. Smartwatch manufactures are partnering with biometric monitoring app developers (such as Apple Watch and IBM Watson Health, shown above) to service consumers who need to monitor, capture, and distribute their critical health data. (Photo copyright: Alexey Boldin/Shutterstock.)


Consumer Reports, citing NPD Group market data, noted smartwatches are increasingly becoming the device-of-choice for consumers who gather fitness data. Besides tracking heart rate, some smartwatch apps also release notifications about accomplishment of goals, enable access to e-mail, and more.

Consumer Reports noted:

  • Smartwatches were used by 17% of US adults in the first quarter of 2015, and the remaining 83% in the demographic used activity trackers;
  • Smartwatch use jumped to 38% by the fourth quarter of 2017; and,
  • Smartwatches will rise to 48% of new market purchases by the fourth quarter this year.

Hardware is Hard

Fitness wearable devices have long been touted by the media for their potential to stream critical health data directly to physicians, to patients’ electronic health records, and to medical laboratories. Dark Daily foresaw in 2016 that, when paired with a smartphone or table computer, the momentum of the fitness wearables trend was substantial. For this reason, clinical laboratory managers and pathologists would want to stay current with these developments. However, today it appears companies offering wearable monitoring devices could be finding it more difficult than anticipated to capture the attention of consumers and leverage what the devices do.

In the end, sports apparel companies are not leaving the digital fitness space entirely, but simply adjusting to new consumer demands. Clinical laboratory leaders will want to keep watch on these developments as the trend evolves. The outcome could alter how patient data enters the pathology workflow.

—Donna Marie Pocius

Related Information:

Digital Marketing Strategy Wearables Statistics 2017

Sports Apparel Brands are All Walking Away from Fitness Wearables

Under Armour Kills the HealthBox Suite of Connected Devices

Adidas to Cut Digital Sports Division

Fitness Tracker or Smartwatch: Which is Best for You?

Improvements to Fitness Wearables Help Stream Data from Consumers Homes to EHRs and Clinical Pathology Laboratories

Recent Study Looks at How Consumers Use Wearables That Generate Biometric data and Whether Such Data Might Be Valuable for Physicians and Medical Laboratories

Precision medicine programs can benefit from wearable usage data; however, little information has been collected on personalities and behaviors of the device users

Wearables medical devices have the potential to monitor some of the same biomarkers used in medical laboratory tests today. In addition, these mobile technologies can make it possible for clinical laboratories to monitor patients in real time, as well as allow labs to incorporate such into a patient’s historical record of lab test results.

The trend toward personalized medicine (aka, Precision Medicine) is increasing, with many payment programs based on it. Thus, monitoring and correcting activities that cause chronic disease, or work against treatments, is becoming standard procedure for forward-thinking, technically proficient doctors and hospitals. But are patients onboard with all of it?

Activity Trackers for Monitoring Patient Behavior

With the popularity of activity trackers on the rise, researchers are examining their usage patterns to determine how the devices are being utilized, their target market, and ways to encourage sustained use of the gadgets.

A recent article published in Annals of Internal Medicine provided insight regarding who is using this type of wearable device, how activity trackers are being employed, and the length of time consumers will maintain their usage.

The research was spearheaded by Mitesh Patel, MD, Assistant Professor of Medicine and Health Care Management, Perelman School of Medicine and the Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania. He believes this is the largest study of its kind to evaluate the usage of wearable fitness trackers.

“Many people are excited by the potential of using activity trackers to monitor healthy behaviors, but there is very little evidence on who is using them and whether or not use is sustained over time,” Patel stated in a Penn Medicine news release. “We found that, though use grew over time, it really varied depending on individual characteristics like age and income. We also found that once someone started using an activity tracker, sustained use at six months was high at 80%.”

Patel is also Director of the Penn Medicine Nudge Unit, a behavioral design team that is studying the impact that nudges or small interventions may have on healthcare. The team is examining ways in which nudges can influence choices, and also direct medical professionals and patients toward optimal decisions to improve healthcare delivery and results. (Photo copyright: University of Pennsylvania.)

Gaming the Study Improves Usage of Test Devices

To perform the study, 4.4 million members of a national wellness program were invited to take part in data collection. Approximately 55,000 of those individuals actually participated in the study, which involved downloading an app to record pertinent information. Researchers tracked and interpreted the data during a two-year period in 2014 and 2015.

The information analyzed included:

  • When participants initially activated their tracker;
  • How often the device was utilized;
  • The average number of steps taken per day; and,
  • Sociodemographic characteristics.

The results of the study were not entirely unexpected, but there were surprises:

  • 80% of the people who initially activated the devices were still using them after six months;
  • Only 0.2% of the invited individuals used the devices in the first year;
  • However, that number increased to 1.2% during the second year.

The usage of wearable activity trackers was nearly double among younger people than it was for older individuals. In addition, people from households with an annual income of less than $50,000 used the gadgets at lower rates than those at higher income levels.

A mere 0.1% of the potential participants were over 65-years old. However, 90% of individuals in this age group were still using the devices six months after initial activation.

The authors of the study stated that adding game elements, such as points, levels, badges and financial incentives may have played a role in the sustained use of the activity trackers.

Gamification and financial incentives are commonly used within wellness programs, but their impact has not been well studied,” Patel stated in the news release. “Our findings provide initial evidence suggesting that these types of engagement strategies may show promise for keeping sustained use high. However, more studies are needed to determine the best way to combine these types of engagement strategies with activity trackers to improve health outcomes.”

Most Commonly Used Mobile Activity Tracking Devices

There were 60 different types of wearable activity trackers that could be used by participants for the study. Seventy-six percent of those participants elected to use the FitBit activity tracker. This mobile healthcare device is worn on the wrist like a watch. It monitors activity, exercise, food, weight, and sleep to provide consumers with real-time data about their activities.

The data collected by the device is sent automatically and wirelessly to the user’s phone or computer. Individuals then can use the FitBit dashboard to view their progress through online charts and graphs. The dashboard also offers progress notifications to the consumer and gives achievement badges when established goals have been reached.

The second most common activity trackers used were Apple devices, such as Apple Watches, which were chosen by 9% of the participants.

Biometric data on patients’ behavior and activities that is collected and transmitted from mobile devices has swiftly become critical data doctors use in precision medicine diagnoses and treatments. Clinical laboratories will likely be including biomarker data taken by these devices in their testing and procedures in the future. The only question is how quickly the data generated by such devices becomes acceptable to add to a patient’s permanent health record.

—JP Schlingman

Related Information:

New Wellness Study Shows Just How Sticky Wearables Can Be, Even Among Seniors

Penn Study Shows 80% of Activity Tracker Users Stick with the Devices for at Least Six Months

Game Time: To Increase Exercise, Study Shows Gaming Strategies and a Buddy Are Key

When Push Comes to Nudge

Improvements to Fitness Wearables Help Stream Data from Consumers’ Homes to EHRs and Clinical Pathology Laboratories

Apple May Be Developing Mobile Device Technology to Monitor User’s Health and Transmit Data in Real Time