Wearables don’t have a doctor’s stamp of approval, yet.

A new study by market research firm MedPanel finds that physicians have spoken to an average of 15% of their patients about apps or wearables in the last 6 months.

Physicians who themselves use devices like a Fitbit or a Jawbone that track a patient’s health are 2.5 times more likely to talk with patients about wearables and apps, and 10% of doctors recommend a wearable to almost all of their patients, the study finds.

Of the physicians who do chat with their patients about health tracking devices they can wear on their bodies, 31.6% think patients accept their recommendation to purchase such a device. The MedPanel LLC study surveyed 415 U.S. physicians.

Such health trackers can calculate steps, estimate calories burned, monitor heart rate and provide other health-related data.


While most doctors are not yet active proponents, 79% of U.S. consumers are willing to use such a devices to improve their health, and 66% would use a mobile app to manage health-related issues, according to research firm Kelton’s “Pulse of Online Health” survey of 1,015 U.S. adult consumers in January 2015.

Of physicians in the MedPanel study who talked to their patients about wearable and mobile apps that track a person’s health, only 37% of the physicians initiated the conversation themselves, while the patient brought up the topic 44% of the time, and the patient’s caregiver 9% of the time. Other answers accounted for the remaining or 10% of respondents.

Physicians cite several reasons why they don’t recommend health tracking devices more, such as the cost. Fitness tracker Fitbit’s entry price is around $75, Jawbone $60, and the Apple Watch sport smartwatch $349. 57% of physicians said they would recommend wearables more if the devices were cheaper, and 58% said they would do so if clinical data showed using wearables improved health outcomes.

Since wearable devices are not medical devices and thus are not regulated for medical use, the hesitation makes sense, says Alexandra Peterson, senior vice president, health practice director, at health care communications firm Makovsky Health.

“Doctors need to be careful about their recommendations and think more of their role as counsel rather than hawking product,” Peterson says.


Other changes physicians say would make them more likely to recommend  wearables include an easier way to import health and fitness data into the patient’s electronic health record or chart (41%); insurance covering part of the total cost (38%); showing data in a way that’s easier for patients to understand  patients (35%); and insurance rebates to patients for the devices (32%).

48% of physicians who recommend apps or wearables do so because they believe their patients will have better health outcomes, 35%  because patients want to use the tools and are looking for guidance, and 34% because they believe the devices will help them better understand their patient’s behavior between visits.

For patients that need certain heath metrics monitored, such as food intake and exercise, tracking these metrics is not a new idea—it just has always been done with pen and paper, Peterson says. Apps and wearables could provide a more sophisticated way of tracking these metrics, and tracking new metrics, such as sleep monitoring. “Physicians are to make sure patients have all of the tools in their arsenal,” she says.

Follow mobile business journalist April Dahlquist, associate editor, mobile, at Mobile Strategies 360, @Mobile360April

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