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Metrics also allowed researchers to group participants based on clinical parameters — ScienceDaily

A new Johns Hopkins study shows that data collected from wearable activity trackers can be used to obtain several metrics related to the user’s general physical health and cardiovascular health status. While these sensors are generally marketed as daily pedometers, the Johns Hopkins research team believes they may serve a larger purpose: supporting clinical care for patients with pulmonary arterial hypertension (PAH) and other chronic diseases.

The study was published in npj Digital Medicine on Nov. 9.

“The goal of this study was to show that clinically relevant measures beyond the daily step count can be derived from these wearable activity monitors,” said Zheng “Peter” Xu, Ph.D., the study’s first author and a postdoctoral fellow for inHealth, a strategic initiative to advance precision medicine at Johns Hopkins University. “Historically, remote monitoring of a patient’s physical status has been challenging. We wanted to meet that challenge and see what kind of untapped information is contained in these devices that can help us support patients with PAH.”

The Cleveland Clinic provided the Johns Hopkins research team with activity tracker-derived data for 22 individuals with PAH who wore activity trackers between two clinic visits. At both clinic visits, Cleveland Clinic medical professionals recorded 26 health measurements from each participant, including health-related quality of life, heart rate measurements and results from the commonly used aerobic capacity and endurance test known as the six-minute walk (6MWD) test.

Using the minute-by-minute walking rate and heart rate data of each participant, the Johns Hopkins team established several measures broadly related to physical health and cardiovascular function. This included the distribution of heart rate and intensity and frequency of walking events throughout each week, as well as results from an analog version of the 6MWD test that the team dubbed the free-living six-minute walk distance test. This data enabled the team to understand each participant’s health status and to identify subgroups among participants with similar metrics to each other.

To demonstrate that this data has potential for clinical use, the team also compared the activity tracker metrics to the 26 health metrics recorded during both clinic visits—and found some unexpected correlations. For example, an activity tracker-measured fitness assessment (based on step count and heart rate data) correlated with levels of clinically measured NT-proBNP, a blood biomarker used to assess the risk of heart failure. Across the 22 participants, the research team found statistically significant differences in 18 of these measures.

“Finding so many statistically significant differences in a relatively small cohort suggests to us that activity tracker data may make it possible to identify surrogate markers of disease severity that can be monitored remotely,” says Peter Searson, Ph.D., senior author of the study and the Joseph R. and Lynn C. Reynolds Professor at the Johns Hopkins University Whiting School of Engineering. “These data could potentially contribute to the identification of patients who would benefit from more frequent clinic visits or specific medications.”

“We also believe that activity tracker-measured health parameters can serve as proxies for clinically measured health parameters of patients with chronic diseases,” adds Searson.

Next, the research team is investigating whether these devices can support clinical care for patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and scleroderma. In collaboration with the Johns Hopkins COPD Precision Medicine Center of Excellence, they will attempt to determine whether signals derived from activity trackers can be used to predict the risk of a COPD flare-up.

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Material provided by Johns Hopkins medicine. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.

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