The promise of mHealth: daily activity monitoring and outcome assessments by wearable sensors

Neurorehabil Neural Repair. Nov-Dec 2011;25(9):788-98. doi: 10.1177/1545968311425908.


Mobile health tools that enable clinicians and researchers to monitor the type, quantity, and quality of everyday activities of patients and trial participants have long been needed to improve daily care, design more clinically meaningful randomized trials of interventions, and establish cost-effective, evidence-based practices. Inexpensive, unobtrusive wireless sensors, including accelerometers, gyroscopes, and pressure-sensitive textiles, combined with Internet-based communications and machine-learning algorithms trained to recognize upper- and lower-extremity movements, have begun to fulfill this need. Continuous data from ankle triaxial accelerometers, for example, can be transmitted from the home and community via WiFi or a smartphone to a remote data analysis server. Reports can include the walking speed and duration of every bout of ambulation, spatiotemporal symmetries between the legs, and the type, duration, and energy used during exercise. For daily care, this readily accessible flow of real-world information allows clinicians to monitor the amount and quality of exercise for risk factor management and compliance in the practice of skills. Feedback may motivate better self-management as well as serve home-based rehabilitation efforts. Monitoring patients with chronic diseases and after hospitalization or the start of new medications for a decline in daily activity may help detect medical complications before rehospitalization becomes necessary. For clinical trials, repeated laboratory-quality assessments of key activities in the community, rather than by clinic testing, self-report, and ordinal scales, may reduce the cost and burden of travel, improve recruitment and retention, and capture more reliable, valid, and responsive ratio-scaled outcome measures that are not mere surrogates for changes in daily impairment, disability, and functioning.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Activities of Daily Living*
  • Biosensing Techniques / instrumentation*
  • Biosensing Techniques / methods
  • Biosensing Techniques / trends
  • Humans
  • Monitoring, Ambulatory / instrumentation
  • Monitoring, Ambulatory / methods
  • Monitoring, Ambulatory / trends
  • Outcome Assessment, Health Care* / methods
  • Outcome Assessment, Health Care* / trends
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic / instrumentation
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic / methods
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic / trends
  • Remote Sensing Technology / instrumentation*
  • Remote Sensing Technology / methods
  • Remote Sensing Technology / trends
  • Telemedicine / instrumentation*
  • Telemedicine / methods
  • Telemedicine / trends