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#DoMoreHIT At the Crossroads: Technology and Transformation in Healthcare

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This review was originally published on FitnessTechMD by @DrJosephKim

Over the past few months, I've had a chance to test and use a number of the newer wearable activity trackers (also known as fitness trackers or wearable activity monitors) like the Polar Loop and the Bowflex Boost. In this review, I'll write about my experience using the Fitbug Orb.

The Fitbug Orb is a round activity tracker that is priced at $49.95 and it can be worn on a wrist strap, on a belt clip, or on a magnetic clip. It comes in pink, black, or white and has a single button along with a single LED light that glows different colors. I've been using the Fitbug Orb for several weeks, wearing it every day at work, when I exercise, and when I sleep.

The black elastomer band holding the Orb around my wrist was comfortable during the day and while sleeping. Overall, the plastic device is light, but it is thick. It's much thicker than the Misfit Shine (which is made of aluminum). The wristband buckle (on the underside of your wrist) has a low profile so it did not disrupt my typing (compared to the Nike+ FuelBand which is much thicker and fairly rigid on the underside, so you'll feel it when you're typing). Since there is no metal touching my skin, you won't develop a nickel allergy rash (due to contact dermatitis). Some Fitbit Force users have reported such a rash recently.

In the picture below, you'll see the Fitbug Orb (in a wristband) on the far right. Nike+ FuelBand is on top, the Misfit Shine is in the middle, the Polar Loop is on the far left, and the Bowflex Boost is on the bottom:

In the picture below, you'll see the Fitbug Orb on my wrist against several other activity trackers: (top to bottom: Misfit Shine, Bowflex Boost, Fitbug Orb, Polar Loop, Nike+ FuelBand):

Unlike some of the other wrist-worn activity trackers, the Orb does not display time directly on the device (neither do the Fitbit Flex, Jawbone Up, Bowflex Boost, etc.). Wrist-worn trackers that display time include examples like the Fitbit Force, Nike+ FuelBand, Misfit Shine, and Polar Loop.

The Orb is a nice option for people looking for a lower-priced wearable activity tracker that you can wear on your wrist, belt, underclothes, etc. Many activity trackers (like the Fitbit Flex, Nike+ FuelBand, Jawbone UP, or Polar Loop) are designed to be worn exclusively on your wrist. That may work for people who don't mind having something on the wrist all the time, but for others who want that flexibility to wear the tracker on different parts of the body, devices like the Fitbug Orb may be an attractive option.

Since the Orb is not waterproof for swimming, it's also not waterproof to handle your washing machine. So, if you accidentally throw your clothes in the wash with your Orb clipped to your waist or pocket, your Orb may come out non-functional. This is another reason why I advocate for wrist-worn activity trackers. There is less likelihood that your device will end up in the washing machine if it's always around your wrist.

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Have you heard of Health Care Innovation Day?

As our nation faces challenges related to interoperability, we have an opportunity to come together to discuss the challenges and to innovate in order to overcome these barriers.

The Gary and Mary West Health Institute (WHI) and the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) are co-hosting HCI-DC 2014: Igniting an Interoperable Health Care System, a public conference that will be held at the Omni Shoreham hotel on Feb. 6, 2014, in Washington D.C. The conference will convene stakeholders critical to driving interoperability – a cornerstone to improving patient care through safer and more cost-effective health care delivery. If you can't be in Washington, then you can listen to the presentations via live webcast.

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This review was originally published on FitnessTechMD by @DrJosephKim

These days, stories are buzzing about "wearables" because of the hype generated at CES in Las Vegas. We're seeing LG, Sony, Epson, Garmin, and a host of other companies launching their wearable activity trackers. Don't want to wait for the latest and greatest? I've been testing multiple wearable activity trackers for the past few weeks/months and here I'll be writing about the Polar Loop which retails for $109.95.

I've owned Polar heart rate monitors for well over a decade. Polar is a global, established brand among fitness enthusiasts, runner, triathaletes, and cyclists. At CES this year, Polar announced the V800, a GPS Bluetooth smartwatch that syncs with other Polar peripherals that use Bluetooth Smart. I can't wait to try it out later this year when it comes out in April.

Now, back to the Polar Loop. The wristband closest to my hand in the picture below is a Nike+ FuelBand. The next one up is the Polar Loop:

The Polar Loop is Polar's first dedicated wearable activity tracker designed to be worn 24 hours/day and is competing against other wrist-worn activity trackers like the Fitbit Flex/Force and Nike+ FuelBand. The Loop is different from other trackers like the FuelBand primarily because of 2 unique and distinguishing features:
  1. It is fully waterproof (to 20 meters) and can be worn while swimming (most wearables are only water "resistant" and not recommended for swimming. The Misfit Shine and the Spark Activity Tracker are a few examples of other fitness trackers that are waterproof for swimming)
  2. It connects with Bluetooth heart rate monitoring chest straps like the Polar H6 or H7 and tracks/stores and displays your heart rate information on the device. This is especially useful when you're exercising. But, keep in mind that Bluetooth signals don't travel under water, so you can't wear a Polar H6 or H7 and monitor your heart rate while swimming if you're using the Polar Loop.

The Polar Loop is also different from most fitness trackers because you have to cut the elastomer band to size it and fit it to your wrist. Since the holes are 5 mm apart, you can adjust the band in 5 mm increments. Once you adjust the size by cutting the band, you're not going back to a bigger size. With a stainless steel buckle clasp, the Loop wears more like a very light sports wristwatch than a rigid wristband.

Here's the Loop next to a Nike+ FuelBand:

And here is another shot where you'll see the flat capacitive button on the Loop next to the raised physical button on the FuelBand:

The Loop also uses a capacitive button to let you scroll through the various display screens:
  • TIME
  • ACTV (activity bar)
  • CALS (calories burned)
  • STEP (pedometer)
Since the flat button is capacitive, you only have to touch it lightly for it to work. However, it won't work if you're wearing non-conductive gloves.

Also, the button only works if the charging connector of the underside of the band is in contact with your wrist. People who don't realize this may get frustrated if they press the button and don't see anything happening on the display. The charging connector requires a proprietary cable which attaches magnetically and it charges and syncs using a standard USB port.

Once you sync the data on your Polar Loop to the Polar Flow mobile app on your iPhone, you can also view the data on the web and see the global community of Polar Flow users. Right now, if you already own a Polar heart rate monitor, you may be using Polar WebSync to upload all your training files to your Polar profile on

Polar Flow is a separate site (as of now) and so your training files on Polar Flow will not appear on and vice versa. I would't be surprised if Polar will eventually migrate into Polar Flow, but we'll have to wait and see if that happens.

The Polar Loop syncs with your iPhone using Bluetooth 4.0, so it continually syncs in the background. I found that sometimes I had to tap on the Loop button to get the Loop to sync with my iPhone. Polar rates the battery life as "up to 6 days" but I suspect that you can expect shorter battery life if you're constantly syncing your Loop with your iPhone over Bluetooth.

Here's a tip: you can save battery life on your Loop and your iPhone by "closing" the mobile app on your iPhone (you can close an app on iOS 7 by double pressing your home button and then swiping the app up so that it's no longer running in the background).

When I started wearing the Polar Loop, I became highly motivated to exercise regularly. I was already exercising somewhat regularly, but now that I knew I was going to share my progress online, I became even more motivated. Here is the Polar Flow mobile app showing my daily activity:

If you tap on the circle, it gives you greater detail on your physical activity for the day:

Scroll down and you'll see how many calories you've burned and how many steps you've taken that day. You'll see that I reached 22,094 steps!

So, how did I do for the week? (I've been highly motivated to exercise ever since I started wearing these activity trackers and writing about it.)

The Loop also tracks my sleep as long as I'm wearing it in bed. I don't have to press any buttons to enter into sleep mode. It detects my sleep automatically and then displays some type of  "good morning" message when I press the button in the morning.

If you've been sitting too long, the Loop will send a signal to your iPhone and "alert" you to get up and move. These inactivity alerts can be useful for people who have a desk job and sit all day. Get into the habit of taking some breaks to drink some water or to walk around the office.

Here are some other distinguishing features of the Polar Loop:

Smart Coaching:
  • Daily Activity Goal provides the user’s personal activity goal with guidance on how to reach it
  • With optional heart rate sensor: Smart Calories – accurately calculates personal calories, taking into account gender and age; and EnergyPointer – shows the impact of exercise (burning fat vs. improving fitness)
  • Provides daily, weekly and monthly views of activity at the different levels of intensity through Polar Flow on desktop or mobile. These include useful guidance on how to become healthier, look and feel better, sharpen mental alertness and reduce long-term risks of lifestyle diseases such as heart disease and cancer.
  • Polar Loop accurately measures all physical activity and compares it with globally recognized physical activity guidelines from the World Health Organization.
If you like to monitor your heart rate when you exercise, the Polar Loop is an excellent daily activity tracker that will keep you moving when you're not actively exercising. When I exercise, I almost always wear a heart rate monitoring strap so that I can quantify my fitness level and my exercise intensity. Having that information helps me know if I'm overtraining or undertraining.

So, whether you're exercising to stay fit or you're training for a race, monitoring your heart rate during exercise can improve the effectiveness of your workout.

  • Waterproof for swimming (The vast majority of other wearable activity trackers are only water resistant for showering and not recommended for swimming).
  • Connects with Bluetooth Smart heart rate monitor chest straps (for safely exercising and training based on your heart rate "zones").
  • Comfortable wrist strap that minimally interferes with typing because of the low profile and the watch-type buckle and feel. Sizing adjustments in 5 mm increments. 
  • Upload your activity data and connect with a global community of users on Polar Flow.
  • Currently only syncs with newer iOS devices (Bluetooth 4.0) and lacks Android support (but Polar will be coming out with an Android app for mobile devices that have Bluetooth 4.0). 
  • The capacitive button only works if the charging connector (on the underside) is touching your skin. If your Loop is too loose on your wrist, then this could be a problem for you. I rarely experienced a non-responsive button.
  • You must cut the wristband to adjust the size. This will make it more difficult for you to sell your Loop when it comes time to upgrade or replace it. 
Summary: The waterproof Polar Loop combined with a chest-worn heart rate monitor (like the Polar H7) provides an excellent platform for daily activity tracking and exercising based on your heart rate goals.

I'm a big fan of wearable activity trackers because I believe they can really make a difference it the overall health of an individual. If these gadgets are used continuously for several weeks and people share their activity progress with others, they are highly effective in helping people change their habits to be more physically active.

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