Scientists from the University of Copenhagen found that while health apps and fitness tracker watches can help shape a healthy lifestyle, they can also boost feelings of anxiety.
The research is published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research and was conducted by Tariq Osman Andersen et al.
In the study, the team examined the experiences of 27 heart patients who used Fitbit fitness watches to measure their sleep, heart rates, and physical activity.
Although the heart patients learned more about their illnesses and were motivated to exercise during the six months that they wore the watches, they also became more anxious.
The team found that 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.
The researchers examined patients with cardiac arrhythmia and pacemakers through 66 qualitative interviews.
While patients have a sense that they are becoming more in tune with their overall health, they link the information from their fitness tracker to their heart disease, which can increase negative feelings.
Exercise is another aspect of the Fitbit watch with both positive and negative aspects.
On one hand, patients were motivated to be active, but at the same time, the app revealed that patients did not attain the recommended 10,000 daily steps, which made many of them feel guilty.
The team says the use of health apps like the Fitbit watch is part of a growing trend to measure the health of, among others, those with chronic illnesses.
They offer great promise. But for health apps to have an effect, patients need help interpreting data related to sleep, heart rate, and exercise habits.
Researchers believe it is time to think in terms of ‘collaborative care’, where both patients and clinicians benefit from the new health data and are thereby able to work together to manage and treat chronic diseases.
This requires that scientists create a digital platform in which clinicians and patients can jointly interpret data from, for example, fitness watches, without creating unnecessary additional work for clinicians.
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For more information about mental health, please see recent studies about new nasal spray that can treat anxiety disorders, and results showing one dose of this drug may lower anxiety and depression for 5 years.
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