Mayo: Fitbit data predicts surgical recovery time

By: Jonah Comstock | Aug 30, 2013        

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Mayo Clinic fitbit

The Fitbit as it was used to track cardiac surgery patients.

Mayo Clinic has finally published a study, completed last year, on using a Fitbit activity tracker to monitor recovery in cardiac surgery patients. They found that step tracking with the Fitbit was easy and cost-effective to implement, and preliminary data suggests that collecting step data could help hospitals determine the appropriate length of stay for a patient recovering from surgery.

In February, MobiHealthNews reported that 90 percent of the 149 patients expressed satisfaction with the Fitbit and the MyCare app used in the study, while 80 percent said they were comfortable using the app.

The published study, which came out in the September issue of the Annals of Thoracic surgery, also includes data about the number of steps recorded in the study, and how those steps correlated with length of stay and with whether the patient was sent home or discharged to a skilled nursing facility.

Patients who had the shortest hospital stay also walked the most on all days in the study, by a statistically significant margin. Likewise, patients bound for home walked more than those headed for a nursing facility (675 vs 108 steps on average for the second recovery day, for instance).

“Although it is obvious that patients who recover mobility sooner are likely to have better outcomes, it is critical in the face of changing demographics and financial rules that we measure functional measures of recovery for individuals and populations,” the study authors write. “Functional status and variables such as mobility will impact discharge disposition, patient satisfaction, social support required, falls, hospital readmission, and ultimately health care costs.”

By establishing a mobility baseline for particular demographics, the authors suggest, hospitals can better detect patients who aren’t recovering as fast as they should and help them. Also, being able to predict a patient’s length of stay helps hospitals manage space and resources. The study authors contrasted the way this data is normally used and collected today.

“Specific patient mobility data are typically found in nursing notes and are not usually part of the workflow of the surgical team,” they write. “Such data may not be obtained in all patients and are intermittent (two or three times a day). With wireless technology, data are objective, acquired, and displayed nearly continuously. This means of acquiring information can greatly simplify information transfer in the hospital and demonstrates the power of remote monitoring.”

Mayo clinic fitbit data

  • Sam

    Does this make Fitbit activity tracker a medical device? This is a very useful application to track patient recovery, but it changes the indication of use! Mayo probably had IRB oversight for the study. Will Fitbit have to obtain FDA clearance to promote the activity tracker for patient use?

  • Brian Mack

    Sam, I would suspect not, since the functional design of the device itself is not changed. Fitbit does not dispense diagnostic, treatment or pharmacological advice or instruction, which would make it a medical device requiring FDA approval. How Fitbit’s existing functionality was applied to treating patients in this study was determined by Mayo’s clinical/research team.

  • Medicalquack

    Fitbit sells data profiles, why not the HealthVault “Walk Me” so your data doesn’t get sold along the line…this way it goes directly to the PHR and last I remember Mayo connects to HealthVault.

    Here’s the “Walk Me” page and wrote it up a couple years ago (2009) on my blog too and they have a link to where you can buy a pedometer that works with it the Omron HJ-7201tc Pedometer, sells for $39.99 on Amazon. Turns out it’s even cheaper without having your data or data profiles sold and connects via USB…

    It’s been around and there’s no web app that goes with it, but via HealthVault the patient is in control over who gets the data. I really do wonder how many of these device companies have business models that would allow them to profit if they didn’t sell data?

  • Sam

    Brian you are right- If a hospital uses Fitbit on its own, it may not need FDA clearance. FDA’s requirement is determined by indication of use promoted by manufacturer. If Fitbit promotes it for patient recovery, it becomes a Medical Device.