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Study Finds Few Share Fitness Data With Doctors

Joshua Pevnick, MD

Personal fitness tracking, using devices such as Fitbit and the Apple Watch, may be all the rage, but getting users to share the data with their doctors is not easy, according to a new study by Cedars-Sinai investigators.

Fitness data, including regular updates on activity levels, blood pressure, body weight and other metrics, potentially can help physicians monitor a patient's health status, progress and response to treatment.

Prior to the study, Cedars-Sinai's Enterprise Information Services took the innovative step of inviting registered users of My CS-Link™, a database for Cedars-Sinai patients, to sync their mobile fitness trackers with their medical records. Of 66,105 users who met the study criteria, only 499 uploaded their fitness data into My CS-Link during the initial 37-day study period.

"Our results demonstrate that, at least initially, patients had little intrinsic desire to share personal fitness tracker data with their providers," said Joshua Pevnick, MD, the study's first author and assistant professor of Medicine in the Cedars-Sinai Division of General Internal Medicine.

Furthermore, people who could benefit most from data sharing were least likely to do it. Compared with those who shared data, those who didn’t share data were significantly older, poorer and more likely to be nonwhite — all factors that predict poor health status in coming years. That's a problem, Pevnick said.

"For personal fitness data to help providers take better care of their patients, the data needs to be from the older and sicker patients most afflicted by illness, rather than the younger, healthier population that is leading the embrace of these devices," he explained.

The study had limitations, including a short time window. Researchers did not collect data on how many patients in the sample were using personal fitness trackers.

But the results are significant because "this is the largest study to date, to our knowledge, of connecting patients using wearable sensors to a health system," said Brennan Spiegel, MD, a study co-author, who is director of the Cedars-Sinai Center for Outcomes Research and Education and professor of Medicine.

The researchers concluded that more marketing, incentives and possibly cultural changes are needed to encourage patients to share mobile fitness data with providers. The study was published Nov. 15 in the online journal PLOS ONE.

To learn more about syncing a fitness device with a medical record, visit the My CS-Link™ home page. Click "What devices and apps sync with My CS-Link?" under Frequently Asked Questions.

The IRB number for human subjects in research referenced in this article is 40437.