Study: Fitbit activity levels linked to lower post-surgery hospital readmission rates

By Laura Lovett
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Using Fitbits to track patients’ activity after cancer surgery could be key to predicting readmission rates, according to new study published in Annals of Behavioral Medicine. Researchers found that patients who were more active during inpatient recovery had a lower risk of 30-day and 60-day readmission after surgery for metastatic peritoneal cancer. 

“These associations persisted after adjustment for demographic and medical covariates such as age, diagnosis, and length of postoperative stay as well as preoperative patient-reported exercise frequency,” the researchers wrote. “Results suggest that commercial activity monitors may provide clinically meaningful information and that passively monitoring perioperative mobility may identify patients at risk for poor postoperative outcomes.”

The study went on to say that using Fitbit and other wearable monitoring devices could help clinicians improve postoperative care. 

The study included a sample of 71 patients with stage four peritoneal carcinomatosis, a type of cancer in the abdomen, who also underwent metastatic cancer surgery. Due to missing data and synching issues, only 54 of the participants’ data was used in the analysis. A Fitbit Flex or Charge was placed on the participants’ non-dominant wrist when he or she was transferred from the ICU to the postoperative recovery floor. Patients were instructed to only take off the device to charge them. 

The mean Fitbit step count was computed by averaging the daily step count across all inpatient days for each user. Researchers then looked at readmission information after 30 days and after 60 days. Patients that died within 30 days of discharge were not counted. 

Participants in the study took an average of 968.22 steps per day during inpatient recovery. The mean steps was inversely correlated with age but not significantly associated with sex diagnosis, body mass index, or length of stay in the hospital. 

The researchers found that within 20 days of discharge 34 percent of patients were readmitted. Three patients were also readmitted between days 31 and 60 after discharge, bringing the total to a 39 percent readmitence rate after 60 days of discharge. 

But patients who walked more steps in recovery had a significantly lower risk of readmission, the researchers noted. For every 100 additional steps taken per inpatient recovery day, the risk of 30-day readmission was 17 percent lower, and the risk of 60 day readmission was 18 percent lower, according to the study. 

The authors of the study noted that this data could help providers identify patients in need of additional monitoring or intervention before discharge. This was the first study to link Fitbit wristband-assessed step counts to readmission in any clinical sample, as well as the first to examine associations between steps and readmission risk after cancer surgery, they wrote. 

Fitbits have, however, been used in previous research to determine the appropriate length of stay for patients recovering from surgery. In 2013, Mayo Clinic researchers published a study that linked the number of steps patients walked to the length of their hospital stay, and whether they were sent home or discharged to a skilled nursing facility. That study found patients who recovered mobility sooner had better outcomes and were more likely to be discharged earlier.