General Practitioners' Perceptions of the Use of Wearable Electronic Health Monitoring Devices: Qualitative Analysis of Risks and Benefits

JMIR Mhealth Uhealth. 2021 Aug 9;9(8):e23896. doi: 10.2196/23896.


Background: The rapid diffusion of wearable electronic health monitoring devices (wearable devices or wearables) among lay populations shows that self-tracking and self-monitoring are pervasively expanding, while influencing health-related practices. General practitioners are confronted with this phenomenon, since they often are the expert-voice that patients will seek.

Objective: This article aims to explore general practitioners' perceptions of the role of wearable devices in family medicine and of their benefits, risks, and challenges associated with their use. It also explores their perceptions of the future development of these devices.

Methods: Data were collected during a medical conference among 19 Swiss general practitioners through mind maps. Maps were first sketched at the conference and their content was later compared with notes and reports written during the conference, which allowed for further integration of information. This tool represents an innovative methodology in qualitative research that allows for time-efficient data collection and data analysis.

Results: Data analysis highlighted that wearable devices were described as user-friendly, adaptable devices that could enable performance monitoring and support medical research. Benefits included support for patients' empowerment and education, behavior change facilitation, better awareness of personal medical history and body functioning, efficient information transmission, and connection with the patient's medical network; however, general practitioners were concerned by a lack of scientific validation, lack of clarity over data protection, and the risk of stakeholder-associated financial interests. Other perceived risks included the promotion of an overly medicalized health culture and the risk of supporting patients' self-diagnosis and self-medication. General practitioners also feared increased pressure on their workload and a compromised doctor-patient relationship. Finally, they raised important questions that can guide wearables' future design and development, highlighting a need for general practitioners and medical professionals to be involved in the process.

Conclusions: Wearables play an increasingly central role in daily health-related practices, and general practitioners expressed a desire to become more involved in the development of such technologies. Described as useful information providers, wearables were generally positively perceived and did not seem to pose a threat to the doctor-patient relationship. However, general practitioners expressed their concern that wearables may fuel a self-monitoring logic, to the detriment of patients' autonomy and overall well-being. While wearables can contribute to health promotion, it is crucial to clarify the logic underpinning the design of such devices. Through the analysis of group discussions, this study contributes to the existing literature by presenting general practitioners' perceptions of wearable devices. This paper provides insight on general practitioners' perception to be considered in the context of product development and marketing.

Keywords: activity trackers; general practitioners; health monitoring; health psychology; health wearables; mHealth; mind maps; qualitative research; self-tracking; wearable devices.

MeSH terms

  • General Practitioners*
  • Humans
  • Perception
  • Physician-Patient Relations
  • Risk Assessment
  • Wearable Electronic Devices*