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Fitbits, Apple watches and other personal tracking devices offer a wide variety of health-related bells and whistles — but Geisinger’s Dr. Timothy Doyle urges patients to not ignore the most simple of these functions.

“The best thing to monitor is how many steps you are taking in a day,” he said. “The American Heart Association recommends people take 10,000 steps a day — in fact many studies show that you can dramatically decrease the chances of heart disease and diabetes by simply hitting that mark on a consistent basis.”

Some devices also track how much aerobic exercise you complete, which is another important benchmark, according to Doyle.

“A number of studies show that if someone is achieving 150 minutes of aerobic activity a week, they can reduce the risk of diabetes by 70 percent,” he said.

 

Electronic journaling

Health tracking devices have been game-changers in the medical industry because, to make positive lifestyle changes, you need to recognize current habits, according to Dr. Steven Barrows, of UPMC Susquehanna.

“Keeping a journal of everything you eat and drink as well as your activities is the time-tested way to capture this information, but it’s not always convenient to write down every detail,” he said. “Many mobile applications and websites have become popular alternatives to paper journals, and fitness trackers have become a part of the connectivity of modern lifestyle.”

Doyle practices what he preaches — depending on his Apple watch for daily fitness tracking and health motivation.

“I love using it — and my family likes to stay competitive by challenging each other to make goals. It creates some positive peer pressure to get active,” he said. “Most of my patients now have Fitbits or Apple watches — we even have challenges in the office to see who can get to 10,000 or 15,000 steps.”

Doyle uses his watch in conjunction with the Activity app, which offers a variety of additional features and ability to track all sorts of data, including calorie intake and statistics on exercise.

 

Other advances

Beyond the personal health tracking, technology has forged other devices that have made major changes in how doctors treat patients.

“If a patient has been in a hospital for an irregular heartbeat, we can set them up with a device at home that monitors heart rates and even daily weight,” said Doyle. “The device can alert us if someone is taking on more fluid or has some other issue — it allows us to make decisions that are best for the patient before they may need a trip to the emergency room.”

For diabetics, technology is reshaping the blood testing devices that are critical in monitoring daily glucose levels.

“Some of the new devices can test sugar without needles, and can transmit readings directly to the provider,” said Doyle. “We actually have a pharmacist that does diabetic management, gets this information directly from patients and can adjust insulin levels that allow patients to get in good control of their sugars in a short amount of time.”

As technology continues to bridge the gap between patients and providers, however, there are certain areas where people should take caution, Doyle added.

“One of the applications for the new Apple watches advertises that it can perform an EKG,” he said. “A true EKG here in the office looks at things from 12 different angles and gives some valuable information, but the Apple watch version can’t do that. It can tell if your heart is beating irregularly, but calling it an EKG could lull some patients into a false sense of security if they are feeling poorly, but the device suggests nothing is off.”

Still, the benefits of these devices can outweigh the concerns — especially in terms of immediate awareness.

“My father-in-law called me a few months ago to tell me he wasn’t feeling well, and he checked his Apple watch and it reported his heart was beating at 150 beats per minute,” Doyle said. “It helped make the decision easier to get him to the emergency room. Used correctly, these devices can save a life.”

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