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Wearables are too expensive for groups underrepresented in medical research

The majority of users of smart watches and other wearable devices that can monitor health are white, highly educated, and wealthy. This is not because other groups are not interested in using the device to maintain their fitness, heart rate, or other measurements, than a new study. The only downside is that the cost of these devices is very high. This makes low-income groups and minority groups excluded from research studies that use portable data.

The study was conducted by researchers from the All of Us Research Program, a initiative by national health institutes aimed at building a representative health data collection in the United States. The group is deliberately seeking to include groups that have historically not represented medical research. As part of the program, the researchers wanted to allow program participants to send health data directly from Fitbit devices. They found, though, that the census of people who decided to send the data was clearer and weaker than the racial and socio-economic diversity of the project as a whole.

To find out why, the team surveyed more than 1,000 patients at six Federal Health Centers, who provide health care to underserved communities. About 40 percent of respondents were identified as Hispanic, 36 percent black non-Hispanic or African American, and 15 percent white non-Hispanic. Two-thirds of the survey was conducted in English, and one-third in Spanish. Most had a high school education or less.

Half of those who responded to the survey said they would be interested in physical activity, saying they were interested in things like monitoring their steps or heart rate. Of the interested group, 49 percent said they do not Keep track of them because they are very expensive. Nearly 20 percent said they did not know how to use it, and 15 percent said they did not know how the tracker could help – but wanted to learn.

The research team also found that language barriers can persuade people to use a smartwatch: many Spanish-speaking participants were concerned about using a tracker to define the device and thought their movements were being monitored.

With the increasing number of health features built into portable devices, they are becoming a major tool for both human health and health research. But if groups like those served by Federal Health Centers are shut down for products, smartwatches will only end up bridging the gap between healthcare equity and health research. When groups are not represented in studies, the results may not be general in those groups, and they lose the benefits of the new results.

But the results of the study show that deliberately working to close these loopholes can help, members All of us the team wrote in the editorial inside Stat. “It is clear that the desire of the participants to adopt lockable technology exists,” they said. “Targeted efforts to build access, opportunities, and infrastructure will allow all communities to benefit from scientific knowledge gained through wearable technology data.”