August 30, 2018

For young doctors, a new ally in the battle against depression: Fitbit

Daily Briefing

    Young doctors suffer from depression at alarming rates, but research at the University of Michigan suggests that Fitbits might be able to help, Christina Farr writes for CNBC.

    How to incorporate wearables data into clinical practice

    A major problem

    From the time that physicians-in-training begin their high-stress, high-stakes medical education, they're at an elevated risk of depression, Farr writes. Medical students have suicide rates around 15% to 30% higher than the general population, and one survey found that around 10% of medical students had considered killing themselves within the previous year.

    After medical school, the stress doesn't let up. New physicians practice for two years as medical interns under supervision at a hospital, Farr writes. This period of their lives can be extremely stressful, leading to high rates of depression and other mental health issues.

    According to Srijan Sen, a professor of depression and neurosciences, "During the first year of training, rates of depression [go] up, risk of suicide goes up, anxiety goes up, and part of what we're studying is why that is and who's at risk and what environmental elements put them at risk."

    How Fitbit is trying to help

    Researchers at the University of Michigan have studied the problem of depression among interns for more than a decade, Farr writes, studying more than 2,000 medical interns each year.

    Now, their research has a new twist: Medical interns are being offered a free Fitbit, and researchers hope to use the fitness trackers' data to identify risk factors for mental health problems.

    Fitbit is currently researching ways to look at consumer-generated data for warning signs of depression, Farr writes, including sleep interruptions and varying levels of activity. According to Jonathan Charlesworth, a research scientist at Fitbit, "We see indications that sleep can get pretty erratic, especially for medical interns who are shift workers. We're seeing that correlate to depressive symptoms."

    Currently, the researchers are trying to determine what feedback from a Fitbit—such as a notification that a participant hasn't slept enough—would be most valuable to interns. More broadly, they hope to use the technology to determine who is at risk of depression and to design effective interventions, Farr writes.

    Sen emphasized, however, that technology is unlikely to offer a complete solution to the problem. What young doctors really need, Sen said, is "more human hours and built-in ways to take care of themselves" (Farr, CNBC, 8/23).

    Your telehealth cheat sheet on wearables

    Telehealth Primer: Wearables

    Wearable technology encompasses the range of devices used by consumers to track their health- and activity-related data. As the multiple functions of wearables on the market continue to expand, consumers are becoming more invested in the potential for these devices to improve their daily habits. Wearable technology can help to facilitate patient activation and improve clinical outcomes.

    The cheat sheet details how rising interest in health data, advancing care innovation, and expansion of FDA device approvals has impacted the adoption of wearables.

    Download the Cheat Sheet

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