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Wearable device manufacturers: Focus on usable health apps

A wearable health technology expert advises wearable device manufacturers to focus on devices and apps that people will use over time, rather than on ones that sell the most.

Lisa Gualtieri is assistant professor of public health and community medicine at the Tufts University School of Medicine, where she researches the effectiveness of wearable health devices, among other topics. Gualtieri also founded a nonprofit startup, RecycleHealth, that recycles used wearable health and wellness devices.

Do you think medical schools should start training physicians on how to use wearable health devices so the data they produce is usable in clinical settings? And what can wearable device manufacturers do to design better health apps, sensors and wearables? Not whiz-bang, fancier, snazzier and more expensive devices, but more useful and better-designed ones?

Lisa Gualtieri: Why not flip that and say what if the wearable device manufacturers figured out a way of picking data over a time period, say the year between annual physicals, and formatting it in a way that a physician could glance at it and get a much better picture of somebody's activity level over the past year?

Lisa Gualtieri, assistant professor, Tufts UniversityLisa Gualtieri

I think the biggest issue [for vendors] is sustained use and understanding by users. For instance, if you create an app, all you might care about as the developer is how many downloads are there. But, in fact, what you should care about is how people use it over time.

What wearables have you used, from which wearable device manufacturers, and what have you used them for?

Gualtieri: I'm on my fourth wearable now, and, yes, I did donate my three previous ones to RecycleHealth. I have a Withings Activité Pop [smartwatch], and this is after a Nike Fuelband and two different models of Fitbit. What I like about the Pop is that it looks like a nice watch and it also meets my needs, having something that I can glance at to see the time [and track steps]. It does show me my activity level, and I probably don't pay an enormous amount of attention to it. When I started wearing a Fitbit, I was wearing it with my watch because I need to be able to glance at my wrist and see the time without pushing a button. I think there are a lot of questions around how these devices are designed and that may be something that will change as the technology evolves as through market demand.

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This was last published in February 2016

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