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Trending Now | Sep 2015

Wearable Technology

Bala Ambati, MD, PhD, MBA

I am happy to don the mantle of happy curmudgeon when it comes to the topic of wearable technology. Aside from my phone and beeper, I do not have wearable technology, and I do not want any. I am not interested in being tracked or monitored anymore than I already am. As a fan of the Matrix, Terminator, Star Trek, and I, Robot movies, I have no desire to be constantly connected, plugged in, hacked, replaced, duplicated, assimilated, modified, or installed into a “hive mind” or “Internet of Things.” Call me a dinosaur or call me a Jedi, but I think technology should serve us, not the other way around. The quantified self, artificial intelligence, and biohacker crowd are a bit too enamored with their own creations and not carefully considering the implications, goals, or outcomes of what they are developing.

John F. Doane, MD

I have had several years of experience with wearable technology, mostly for health and fitness. I use the Fitbit Zip (Fitbit). I like that it is worn on a belt versus the wrist. To track steps while I am cycling or spinning, I place it on my cycling shoes. It would be great to receive money off on my insurance for using the technology. In researching this possibility, I learned that, for my family of four, all of us have to be enrolled in the Health Vitality program. I have found this a challenge for all four of us. On another note, wearable technology for fitness can become an obsession for compulsive individuals. I say this half-jokingly, but to others who do not use the technology, intense usage can be seen as a neurotic behavioral issue. 

Regarding software/hardware issues, I have found the Fitbit mobile device application and website to be very robust. I receive notices weekly on my step count versus those of other folks across the country.  I have owned my Zip for about 10 months and am on my third Zip device. The other two did not function correctly. I contacted Fitbit, and the company shipped new devices to me at no charge and with no hassle. 

From a practice standpoint, wearable technology has been a great incentive to get employees interested in their own health, nutrition, and activity. Almost every week, our fitness coordinator offers an activity for elective involvement. The interest level among the employees has surprised me. Several have significantly improved their health status and trajectory for the long term. A step contest, for instance, is great for all involved. Employees have gravitated toward achieving health status levels to knock hundreds of dollars per year off their insurance premiums. 

Overall, wearable fitness has been a positive experience. The emergence of insurance-based fiscal incentives with the commercialization of digital devices to get fit has been a great symbiotic relationship in my view. Is the wearing of these gadgets with smart technology a passing fad? Perhaps in part, but it appears personalized health insurance plan benefits and reciprocation for personal health responsibility may give this relationship legs for the foreseeable future.    

Somdutt Prasad, MS, FRCSEd, FRCOphth

Wearable devices are a fascinating area of information technology innovation and have received a considerable amount of attention. These devices can be worn on the body as an accessory and can perform several computing tasks. Wearable devices also come in the form of bracelets, caps, and contact lenses. Here are some popular wearable devices with which I am familiar.

Mi Band. A water-resistant fitness tracker, the Mi Band (Xiaomi) works with any Android phone. An extremely cheap device (about $31), the band monitors activity levels, calculates calories burned, and tracks walking distances. It can differentiate between a walk and a run. The band also tracks sleep and sleeping habits. It tells users the number of hours they were in bed and how much of that time was spent in light or deep sleep.

NFC Ring. The NFC Ring (McLear) uses near-field communication technology. The device can perform a range of activities such as unlocking a smartphone and sharing contact information. With two NFC sensors, any kind of information can be loaded onto the ring.

Smartwatches. Smartwatches are computing devices worn on wrists. The have similar capabilities to those of smartphones, including surfing the Internet, reading and answering emails, making calls, and messaging. Samsung, Apple, Lenovo, and LG all have smart watches on the market.

Micoach Fit Smart. This wearable device from Adidas provides information about workouts through an accelerometer and heart rate monitor. When paired with the Micoach app (micoach.adidas.com/apps), the device gives real-time feedback on the intensity of a workout. It also stores 10 hours of fitness metrics such as heart rate, stride rate, pace, and distance. n

Bala Ambati, MD, PhD, MBA
• professor of ophthalmology and director of cornea research, John A. Moran Eye Center of the University of Utah, Salt Lake City
bala.ambati@utah.edu; www.doctorambati.com

John F. Doane, MD
• private practice with Discover Vision Centers, Kansas City, Missouri
• clinical assistant professor, Department of Ophthalmology, Kansas University Medical Center, Kansas City, Kansas
• (816) 478-1230; jdoane@discovervision.com
• financial interest: none acknowledged

Somdutt Prasad, MS, FRCS, FRCOphth
• consultant ophthalmologist and retina specialist at AMRI Hospitals and i4vision, Kolkata, West Bengal, India
• +919830507754; somprasad@gmail.com; www.somduttprasad.com
• financial interest: none acknowledged

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