Health apps and fitness watches provide incredible insight into one’s health but can also give rise to excessive anxiety, according to a new study.
Tariq Osman Andersen, an assistant professor at the University of Copenhagen’s Department of Computer Science, said fitness watches that measure sleep, heart rates, and physical activity could have drawbacks for the wearer.
Andersen’s research team conducted a six-month study with 27 heart patients who used ‘Fitbit’ fitness watches. The team said some wearers experienced increased anxiety over misinterpret heart data:
“Our study shows that, overall, self-measurements are more problematic than beneficial when it comes to the patient experience. Patients begin to use the information from their Fitbits just as they would use a doctor. However, they don’t get help interpreting their watch data. This makes them unnecessarily anxious, or they may learn something that is far from reality,” he said.
Published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research, the study determined the “pros and cons of using Fitbit watches:”
-More information calms, but also awakens doubt
Patients have a sense that they are becoming more in tune with their overall health, but they link the information to their heart disease, for which there is no safe basis. For example, if they see that they aren’t sleeping as much as they should be, they become uncomfortable and fear that this may exacerbate their illness. Similarly, they often link fast hearts rate with an increased risk of a heart attack.
“Conversely, the Fitbit watch can be calming, if data shows that you are sleeping well and have a low heart rate. The problem is that you cannot use data directly related to heart disease because the watch is designed for sports and wellness, as opposed to managing the disease,” explains Tariq Osman Andersen.
-Patients gain the courage to exercise, while simultaneously experiencing feelings of guilt
Another aspect of the Fitbit watch with both positive and negative aspects is exercise. On the one hand, patients were motivated to be active, but at the same time, the app revealed when patients did not attain the recommended 10,000 daily steps, which made many of them feel guilty.
As for heart patients using smartwatches, the data is prone to misinterpretation by the wearer as a medical professional is not examining it and could produce unwanted anxiety.
Sometimes, maybe too much technology is bad…