Fitness Trackers Correlate with Increased Medication Adherence, Study Finds

The more a patient uses a wearable, the more likely they are to be adherent.

Patients with chronic disease who track their health metrics using a wearable device are more likely to achieve medication adherence, according to new research.

The study found wearable users were 1.3 times more likely to be adherent than peers who didn’t use fitness trackers. Furthermore, investigators found the connection holds as activity increases: the more a patient uses the tracker, the more likely they are to be adherent.

“Before our study, there had been little to no research on the link between medication adherence and tracking activity through wearables and connected apps, so we were not sure what we were going to find,” said co-author Jessie Juusola, Ph.D., senior director of outcomes research at Evidation Health, the California-based health-tech company that created the Andromeda data platform used in the study.

Investigators retrospectively looked at medication adherence data from tens of thousands of patients with diabetes, dyslipidemia or hypertension from January 2015 to June 2016. The participants were all members of Humana’s health insurance and prescription coverage programs. Researchers identified a subset of 8,500 patients who used fitness trackers and used their data to compare adherence rates.

Although the study finds a link between fitness apps and adherence, that does not mean wearable devices cause medication adherence. Juusola noted that the data only indicate a correlation, not a causation.

“We do think it is an interesting and potentially actionable correlation, however,” she said. “We think there is opportunity for further research to delve into this relationship.”

Susan M. Zbikowski, Ph.D., a study co-author and head of inZights Consulting, said she thinks it’s unlikely that wearing a fitness tracker is the cause of the correlation.

Instead, it’s possible that some people simply have a behavior trait that makes them more prone to medication adherence and fitness tracker use.

“This ‘adherent-type’ person could in theory adhere to all types of health recommendations — such as, getting a flu shot, seeing their doctor regularly, following recommendations for achieving a healthy weight, engaging in regular fitness and even tracking these health behaviors with an activity tracker,” she said.

Still, Juusola and Zbikowski both said the research community needs more data to determine the impact of fitness trackers on healthcare. Juusola said such information could also help payers and employers devise the most cost-effective ways to help their members and employees stay healthy.

More data would also be helpful for individual users of fitness trackers. Zbikowski said it’s important that users be able to glean useful, actionable data from their wearable devices.

“It is all too often that consumers stop using wearables and tracking apps after they glean enough information about their routines and baseline behaviors,” she said. “After a while, the consumer gives up using these devices when they stop seeing changes in their health behavior data.”

The study was published earlier this year in the Journal of Medical Internet Research.

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