Nearly 80,000 patients were sent patient portal messages inviting them to share and sync their fitness tracker data. Apple Healthkit, Fitbit, and Withings were among supported devices. The question was of these roughly 80,000 (79,953 to be exact) people, how many elected to share their fitness tracker data? This was not a hypothetical question but a real life choice that Dr. Speigel and colleagues observed and measured.
The answer: four hundred and ninety nine. Even accounting for inactive portal users and removing children etc from the sample, there were still 66,015 eligible patients. 499/66,015 or less than 1 percent total (0.75%) was the final total. Looking at who were those 0.75% that did upload their data, results indicted the strongest predictors were 1) being a healthcare worker and 2) having health insurance.
So what do these results mean? This is the largest study to date examining willingness of patients to share mobile health data with a healthcare system. While not everyone owns a wearable device, estimates that roughly 1/3 of the population has access to one mean that there were likely over 25,000 people in this sample that could have shared their data. So with only 499 sharing there data it means that people are more reticent to share than is often claimed. While this study did not explore why people did not want to share, this is an important topic for further research. Was it fears of data security breaches, encroachment on privacy, lack of perceived value in sharing? Are people simply not using their wearables so have no data to share?
The data from this study does however tell something about those who did share their fitness tracker data. The two strongest predictors were being a healthcare worker and having health insurance. The authors suggest that healthcare workers may have heard more about the study and thus suggest further education and outreach may be a good route to increase engagement going forward. It is also possible those working in the healthcare system and with insurance care greatly about their health and are already very engaged in their wellbeing. Again, it is impossible to know more but this study raises interesting questions. The table below from the paper also explores other variables such as age, race, gender, BMI, and more.
The bottom line is offering patients the opportunity to share data via a portal is not enough. Building the infrastructure to support data sharing is a necessary, but insufficient step. Studies like this are important in providing the large scale and real world data that we can all use to create more engaging and impactful medical technologies.
The paper is free to access at: http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0165908