By the numbers

3 tips for helping patients use health tracking app data

Many patients are collecting data on health apps and trackers, but the information isn’t always put to good use. Here’s how physicians can help.


With the new year comes renewed motivation to make healthy lifestyle changes. As patients track their steps and bites on health apps such as FitBit, the data they collect could prove beneficial at their next appointment.

“I encourage my patients to use apps not only for motivation but also to track their progress,” says Jennifer Caudle, DO, an assistant professor at the Rowan University School of Osteopathic Medicine in Stratford, New Jersey, who uses health apps herself. “Trackers and apps might not be right for everyone, but for people who like technology, they can help.”

After patients collect some baseline data, Jonathan Vitale, DO, encourages them to share their information so he can help interpret it. For example, some patients use Wi-Fi connected smart scales that can track weight and body fat.

“Many of my patients are able to upload data from their smart scales directly into their electronic health record. Then I can see trends develop over time,” says Dr. Vitale, a family physician at One Medical Group in New York. “We need to help patients understand the data they are collecting.”

Specialists will likely find unique ways to use data from health apps.

“Activity apps, such as those that track steps, certainly can be helpful in the postoperative rehab process,” says Adam Bitterman, DO, an orthopedic surgery fellow at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago.

3 tips for using health tracking app data

Even if you do not use health apps or trackers yourself, Dr. Caudle recommends becoming familiar with them. “Be open to the technology available to help your patients reach their health goals,” she says.

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To most effectively help your patients maximize the health data they collect, try the following tips:

  • Make sure your patients are setting realistic goals. A common fitness goal is 10,000 steps per day, but this might not be appropriate for a patient with a heart or lung condition.
  • When patients aren’t progressing, help them troubleshoot the problem. If a tracker shows a patient is not sleeping enough hours, for example, try to figure out the cause for decreased sleep. Is the patient keeping the phone at the bedside or watching TV in the bedroom? “Sometimes we have to make changes outside the issue to solve the problem,” says Dr. Caudle.
  • See if your patients can upload data into their electronic health record. This is what Dr. Vitale has some of his patients do. “Patients really like that I find their data useful, and it helps them feel like active participants in their health care,” he says.

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