Wearable gadgets are a great way to gather information on your fitness and health habits, but what do you do with that information once you’ve gathered it? Giving it to your doctor probably won’t help you, because there’s nothing of value that they can do with that information, and many of them wouldn’t trust it even if there was. There’s nothing indicating that wearables can gather information on your health as well as certified medical equipment can, and there’s a lot of data indicating that they can’t, which means the information they gather probably isn’t even reliable.
You may think your smart watch or activity tracker can help you keep tabs on your health, but don’t be shocked if your doctor is more skeptical. Wearable producers such as Apple, Fitbit, and Pebble will ship more than 76 million of the devices by the end of the year, according to market research firm IDC. Some doctors and researchers, however, remain unimpressed, They question the value of the particular metrics tracked, as well as the validity of the deluge of data these gadgets produce. “I’m an oncologist, and I have these patients who are proto ‘quantified self’ kinds of people,” says Andrew Trister, an oncologist at the nonprofit medical research organization Sage Bionetworks. “They come in with these very large Excel spreadsheets, with all this information—I have no idea what to do with that.” Trister says that his colleagues have had patients bring in their own wearable-gathered data, too, and they’re “really taken aback” by it. It’s very difficult, clinically, to interpret trends that come out of such information, he says. Neil Sehgal, a senior research scientist at the UCSF Center for Digital Health Innovation who has a doctorate in public health, agrees. “Clinicians can’t do a lot with the number of steps you’ve taken in a day,” he says.