When you share your health data, we all learn
During #24DaysofGiving this December, we’ll highlight some of the most important things we’ve learned from data that members have selflessly shared, and all the good data donation is doing. One example is the Fitbit study we partnered with Biogen on earlier this year. Nearly 250 members living with MS took part in the study, using Fitbit trackers to monitor their walking activity. What did we all learn? That combining the data members add to their PatientsLikeMe profiles with data collected by activity trackers can impact self-discovery and research.
We’ve all seen the popularity of wearable devices (like activity trackers) soar in the last two years. They can keep track of the calories you eat, the steps you take, the sleep you get, and just about everything in between. They’re practical too: easy to use, progressively cheaper to buy, and so low-key that you almost forget they’re there.
As PatientsLikeMe is watching the world of devices evolve, we’ve actually been thinking about its potential impact in a different way, and on a totally different level. These devices make it easier to monitor what’s going on for patients in the real world and in between doctor visits, not just at one point in time, or at appointment with your care team.
Why does this matter to anyone living with MS? For the 45,000 members of the MS community on PatientsLikeMe, they know that the condition can impact their ability to get around. Yet, the standard test to measure how they’re doing over time is the walking test. It’s typically conducted in the perfectly flat and safe hallway of a doctor’s office. That’s not exactly the real world, where pavements can be uneven, obstacles get in the way, and the distance you need to walk is usually a lot farther than 25 feet.
So we thought about the data tracked while using these devices and the impact that they could have in a patient’s life. Could devices help give patients a bigger picture of their habits and health, and help them have more informed conversations with their care team about what to change to improve their outcomes?
Earlier this year, PatientsLikeMe partnered with pharmaceutical company Biogen to find answers, and set out to design a patient-centered study using wearable devices. We kicked off the study with 248 PatientsLikeMe members living with MS. Our goal was to learn if people living with MS could use wearable activity trackers to collect and share their mobility data, which could potentially provide relevant information to their care team and to other patients. Study results were presented at the 67th American Academy of Neurology’s (AAN) Annual Meeting in Washington, DC in April, and here’s what they revealed:
Members were engaged in tracking their activity, even though nearly half had never done so before.
- About 82% of those that took part activated their Fitbit and authorized PatientsLikeMe to access their data.
- As a group, they synced their devices an average of 18 days over the 21-day study, for a remarkable 87% adherence rate. Said another way, they stuck with the study. (Now, that’s really donating data!)
- During the study they walked more than 15 million steps, the equivalent of 6,820 miles or the distance from Boston to Beijing, China.
The study had a lasting impact.
Annette, a PatientsLikeMe member and study participant who had never used a wearable activity tracker before, said she got a lot of positive reinforcement to do more each day. “The Fitbit also allowed me to track what I was eating and how I was sleeping. I made more positive choices as a result.”
Those 248 members used their Fitbits for four weeks, and then we reached out to them with a follow-up survey to get their feedback. About 190 of them completed the survey, and here’s some of what we learned:
- 89% believe activity tracking is important for health management.
- 55% believe that the device helped change their health routine.
- 68% said the device would help them manage and track their MS.
The study and survey made it clear that activity monitoring has the potential to engage patients as advocates in their own care, and give healthcare providers a realistic view of their patients’ daily activities outside of the office. Just how far and wide that impact can go is what we could study next, thanks to patients like you who took these first steps with us to get it all started.
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