The technology developed for research purposes generally seems to be more credible than commercial devices.
Wearable devices have been a trending topic in health and wellness for a few years. A recent study was conducted to find their impact and usefulness in our daily lives.
"Despite the fact that we live in an era of 'big data,' we know surprisingly little about the suitability or effectiveness of these devices," said lead author Dr Jonathan Peake at the Queensland University of Technology in Australia.
"Only five per cent of these devices have been formally validated," he stated.
The authors reviewed information on devices used both by everyday people desiring to keep track of their physical and psychological health and by athletes training to achieve certain performance levels.
The devices - ranging from so-called wrist trackers to smart garments and body sensors designed to track our body's vital signs and responses to stress and environmental influences -- fall into six categories:
- devices for monitoring hydration status and metabolism
- devices, garments and mobile applications for monitoring physical and psychological stress
- wearable devices that provide physical biofeedback (e.g., muscle stimulation, haptic feedback)
- devices that provide cognitive feedback and training
- devices and applications for monitoring and promoting sleep
- devices and applications for evaluating concussion
The authors said that technology developed for research purposes generally seems to be more credible than devices created purely for commercial reasons.
"What is critical to understand here is that while most of these technologies are not labeled as 'medical devices' per se, their very existence, let alone the accompanying marketing, conveys a sensibility that they can be used to measure a standard of health," said Peake. "There are ethical issues with this assumption that need to be addressed," he further explained.
For example, self-diagnosis based on self-gathered data could be inconsistent with clinical analysis based on a medical professional's assessment.
And just as body mass index charts of the past really only provided general guidelines and didn't take into account a person's genetic predisposition or athletic built, today's technology is similarly limited.
The authors are particularly concerned about those technologies that seek to confirm or correlate whether someone has sustained or recovered from a concussion, whether from sports or military service.
"We have to be very careful here because there is so much variability. The technology could be quite useful, but it can't and should never replace assessment by a trained medical professional," said Peake.
Peake said it is important to establish whether using wearable devices affects people's knowledge and attitude about their own health and whether paying such close attention to our bodies could in fact create a harmful obsession with personal health, either for individuals using the devices, or for family members.
Still, self-monitoring may reveal undiagnosed health problems, said Peake, although population data is more likely to point to false positives.
"What we do know is that we need to start studying these devices and the trends they are creating," said Peake, adding that it is a booming industry.
The study appears in the journal Frontiers in Physiology.