Home Gadgets How Mobile Health Apps and Wearables Could Actually Make People Sicker

How Mobile Health Apps and Wearables Could Actually Make People Sicker


A recent journal article about wearable tech for infants pulls no punches: “There is no evidence that consumer infant physiologic monitors are life-saving, and there is potential for harm if parents choose to use them,” it states.

While the article is an opinion piece, it carries the weight of authority: It was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association and was authored by two pediatricians and an expert from the ECRI Institute, a nonprofit organization dedicated to the rigorous evaluation of medical procedures and devices.

The authors call out specific products that are marketed to nervous parents, including the $250 Owlet Smart Sock, which monitors a sleeping baby’s pulse and blood oxygen levels. There’s no need to monitor healthy infants so closely, the authors say, and doing so will likely cause false alarms and fear.

This analysis has implications for the larger field of mobile health. It’s been less than a decade since the “quantified self” craze began, but fitness trackers, wearable gadgets, and health-related apps have proliferated; for diabetes management alone, consumers can choose from more than 1500 apps.

Some experts believe that these products will provide useful streams of health data that will empower consumers to make better decisions and live healthier lives; for example, one Stanford professor credits his wearables for early detection of his Lyme disease.

But others say the flood of information can have the opposite effect by overwhelming consumers with information that may not be accurate or useful. To probe further, IEEE Spectrum spoke with David Jamison, coauthor of the JAMA article and executive director of ECRI Institute’s health devices group, as well as Priyanka Shah, a project officer in his group.