Monthly Archives: April 2022

A Study To Understand The Lack Of Diversity In The Use Of Fitness Trackers.

As the world continues to become increasingly connected, mobile devices have become ubiquitous. Wearable devices, including fitness trackers provide nearly continuous information on physical activity, heart rate, and sleep. As the use of these monitoring increases, data are increasingly integrated into clinical and research settings. There is emerging evidence that fitness trackers can identify changes in heart rate variability, and other symptoms including the potential to identify COVID-19 prior to a clinical diagnosis.

Unfortunately, an understanding of how digital health technologies can be used for equitable healthcare across diverse communities is needed.  

It seems that most people who use smartwatches and other wearable devices that can track health are white, well-educated, and wealthy. 

Recent research published in Nature’s NPJ Digital Medicine Journal, intentionally included groups that are historically underrepresented in medical research e.g. lower-income groups and racial minority groups. The goal was to find out the reasons for lack of interest or reduced adoption of fitness trackers.

The study was conducted by researchers at the All of Us Research Program, an initiative at the National Institutes of Health aiming to build a health database that’s representative of the United States. As part of the program, the researchers wanted to let program participants send health data directly from Fitbit devices. They found, though, that the demographics of the people who decided to send data were whiter and wealthier than the racial and socioeconomic diversity of the project as a whole.

To figure out why, the team surveyed over 1,000 patients at six Federally Qualified Health Centers, which provide medical care to underserved communities. Around 40 percent of the people who responded identified as Hispanic, 36 percent as non-Hispanic Black or African American, and 15 percent as non-Hispanic white. Two-thirds of the surveys were done in English, and one-third were done in Spanish. Most had a high school education or less.

Over half of the people who responded to the survey said that they’d be interested in a fitness tracker, saying that they’d be interested in things like tracking their steps or heart rate.

Of the group that was interested, 49 percent said that they don’t have a tracker because they’re too expensive. Almost 20 percent said that they don’t know how to use them, and 15 percent said that they don’t know how a tracker could help — but want to learn.

The research team also found that language barriers can dissuade people from using a smartwatch: many Spanish-speaking participants were concerned by the use of “tracker” to describe the devices and thought that their movements would be monitored.

As more and more health features get built into wearable devices, they’re becoming a major tool used both for individual people’s health and for medical research. But if groups like the ones served by Federally Qualified Health Centers are shut out from the products, smartwatches just end up reinforcing existing equity gaps in healthcare and in health research. When groups aren’t represented in studies, results can’t be generalized to those groups, and they miss out on the benefits of new findings.

Source: Hook M, Litwin TR, Munoz F, et al. Wearable fitness tracker use in federally qualified health center patients: strategies to improve the health of all of us using digital health devices. npj Digital Medicine Vol 5, Article number:53 (2022).

Americans Cautious About Advances in Artificial Intelligence and Human Enhancement Technologies

A new Pew Research Center survey finds that Americans believe that AI and human enhancements via technology have the potential to improve daily life and human abilities. Yet public views are also cautiously defined by 1) the context of how these technologies would be used, 2) what constraints would be in place and 3) who would stand to benefit – or lose – if these advances become widespread.

Public caution is mostly centered around concerns about privacy, autonomy, unintended consequences and the amount of change these developments might mean for humans and society.

This survey looks at a broad arc of scientific and technological developments – some in use now, some still emerging. Three highlight the burgeoning array of AI applications: the use of facial recognition technology by police, the use of algorithms by social media companies to find false information on their sites and the development of driverless passenger vehicles.

Another three are often described as types of human enhancements, revolve around developments tied to the convergence of AI, biotechnology, nanotechnology and other fields. They raise the possibility of dramatic changes to human abilities in the future: computer chip implants in the brain to advance people’s cognitive skills, gene editing to greatly reduce a baby’s risk of developing serious diseases or health conditions, and robotic exoskeletons with a built-in AI system to greatly increase strength for lifting in manual labor jobs.

Americans are far more positive than negative about the widespread use of facial recognition technology by police to monitor crowds and look for people who may have committed a crime: 46% of U.S. adults think this would be a good idea for society, while 27% think this would be a bad idea and another 27% are unsure.

By narrower margins, more describe the use of computer algorithms by social media companies to find false information on their sites as a good rather than bad idea for society (38% vs. 31%), and the pattern is similar for the use of robotic exoskeletons with a built-in AI system to increase strength for manual labor jobs (33% vs. 24%).

The survey of 10,260 U.S. adults was conducted between Nov. 1 and 7, 2021. There are five key themes that run through people’s answers on these questions.

  1. Americans’ judgments about the potential impact of this set of applications are varied and, for portions of the public, marked by uncertainty. [Link to graphic]
  2. Less than half of the public believes these technologies would improve things over the way they are now. [Link to graphic]
  3. Americans see a need for higher standards to assess the safety of technologies on the horizon than are currently used. [Link to graphic]
  4. There are sharp partisan divisions when people think about possible government regulation of these new and developing technologies.
  5. There are mitigating steps people say would make these AI and human enhancement developments more acceptable. [Link to graphic]

Source: Pew Research

AI and Human Enhancement: Americans’ Openness Is Tempered by a Range of Concerns