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Expert Perspectives

How Wearables Can Improve Our Wellness

By Dr. Andrew Miners, Medcan’s clinical and product director of sports medicine, therapy, rehabilitation and fitness

Data from products like the Apple Watch, the Fitbit and the Whoop band stand to improve the way we manage our health in some surprising ways.

The Apple Watch debuted in April of 2015—the same year as version 1.0 of the Whoop band, and the Kickstarter campaign for the first-generation Oura ring. Less than a decade later, research suggests that more than one in five people sport some sort of a wearable health-tracking device. The devices encourage us to get up and walk around when we’ve been sedentary for too long. They also congratulate us when we get a great night of sleep or hit our target daily step count.

And they’re only getting started.

That’s the big takeaway from my recent discussion with Leslie Wilberforce, the chief operating officer of Silicon Valley’s Evidation, a global market leader in the aggregation of what they call “person-generated health data” from approximately 5 million Americans using numerous different wearable platforms. They take that information and organize it in such a way that it is useful to medical and pharmaceutical researchers. (Note: Medcan does not have any commercial affiliation with Evidation, nor do we derive any financial benefit from providing them with exposure.)

It was an inspiring conversation for me personally because, at Medcan, we’re working behind the scenes to better incorporate wearables data into the way we care for client health and wellness. Data from wearables is already informing the personalized wellness strategies that we develop for some of the clients who wear them. Trainers are checking in with step-counting apps to promote client physical activity levels.

We’re working on a way to synthesize these processes, to more efficiently collect and track data from wearable technology — not just fitness trackers, but also continuous glucose monitors and blood pressure cuffs — so that year-long health data can be used to improve the health of our clients. Instead of just getting a single-day snapshot of a person’s health metrics, the future goal is to get useful data over the course of a year, and then compare that to previous years. Because often, trends in health over time are more important than a single data point.

Currently, as Evidation’s Wilberforce observes, “the richest data that exists about someone’s health is invisible to the health .care system.”

By “rich data,” Wilberforce means information about people’s lifestyles, like the way we actually live. How much we move around, and how much exercise we get. Plus, stats like blood pressure, heart rate and skin temperature. Sure, clinicians can investigate such variables by asking patients lifestyle questions or performing screening procedures. But often, we’re poor judges of our own health information, and most screening procedures provide only a single data point at a single point in time.

Wearable devices hint at the possibility that health care practitioners—medical doctors, fitness trainers, dietitians, among others—could access a much deeper well of health information, one that more accurately reflects how you live your life. Instead of sampling key components of your wellness over some limited time span, wearables can provide an always-on, unending flow of information, all the time.

Evidation’s app encourages wearables owners to upload their person-generated health data to a database, then set healthy lifestyle goals. In exchange, the users of the Evidation app are provided with real-world incentives when they achieve their goals. So for example, they can earn points redeemable for cash when they achieve a certain number of steps, on a given number of consecutive days. (The app currently isn’t available in Canada, although Wilberforce says Evidation is working on that.) In addition, Evidation provides its users with the option of making their data available to researchers, who may use it for studies designed to help create insights about human health and wellness.

“Wearables plus engagement around wellness can increase daily exercise minutes by about 40%,” Wilberforce says.

Evidation’s programs provide a unique view into the way wearables are changing wellness. One of their initiatives allows users to opt into a program that tracks vital signs to seek out early signs of infectious disease. The intent is to help reduce things like flu, or COVID-19, by catching conditions at the pre- or early-symptomatic stage. “And based on what they answer,” says Wilberforce. “We can… say, ‘Hey, you might want to think about whether going to school or the office today, to think about how to reduce spread.”

Another program, the Heartline study, sees Evidation collaborating with Apple and Johnson & Johnson to determine whether wearables can help to diagnose atrial fibrillation earlier in adults over 65. For flare-type conditions, like rheumatoid arthritis, Evidation is looking at whether it’s possible to catch indications of an oncoming flare, so that the user can take steps that might reduce the severity of symptoms. They’re also working on projects designed to aid early detection of Alzheimer’s disease.

The end goal, at both Medcan and Evidation, is to allow clients opt-in to real-time monitoring of their wearables data, and empower clinicians to proactively partner with clients in promoting early detection of potential health problems. Rather than clients calling a doctor when they notice symptoms, the doctor would be privatively calling them long before symptoms ever develop. As a company, Medcan believes in the power of prevention, and we’re excited about the way technology is evolving to allow wearables to help us all live longer, healthier and more active lives.

Seeking help to better integrate your wearables data into your fitness training? Our fitness trainers can help. Contact bookingteam@medcan.com to arrange a consultation.

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