Did You Know That I’m a Champ?

I got a tough wake-up call this week when I stepped on my bathroom scale only to have it shout back at me “one at a time, please.” The evidence is undeniable: I left no burger behind during vacation, and now I have to get back on my regular schedule. (You know the one I mean: it’s called “[sensible] diet and exercise.”)


I eat healthy food (and plenty of it, apparently) and I usually get to the gym a few times each week (don’t be impressed: I’m simply playing for the tie); but now I need to get motivated and work out to win. Enter my Flex FitBit™ Wireless Activity and Sleep Monitor.


A few years back I had one of the first FitBits offered — the one that clipped onto your clothes. Unfortunately, it wasn’t quite ready for primetime (or my washing machine). But this new design is dynamite. It’s lightweight, and snaps onto your wrist like a bracelet or watch. During the day, it tracks steps taken, distance covered, and calories burned, and even has a bar-code scanner in the smartphone app to read Nutrition Labels. At night, it tracks your sleep quality, and can be programmed to wake you with a nearly-silent vibration. In a significant improvement over its predecessors, it’s waterproof, so you can wear it in the shower or while swimming — and if it lands in the washing machine, it will survive.

All great features — but they aren’t the only ones new on this device. The online dashboard and smartphone applications have also been redesigned and there is a lot to like about them as well. Here’s a screenshot of my dashboard for September 4, 2014:


The upper left panel shows a horizontal bar chart that displays my activity during the day. Yellow is light, orange moderate, and green intense activity. My graph has orange bars because I went for a three-mile run — and yes, it was at 6:00 am. The next set of visuals displays steps taken, calories burned, and miles walked/run and how many minutes of the day were active minutes. The more you do, the more complete the color bar around the circumference of the circle becomes. You can see from the green circles that I was already a “Champ!” on three of the metrics, which I admit I love seeing; but my orange circle isn’t quite complete, indicating that I hadn’t (by that point in the day, at least) yet burned all of the calories I had set as a goal in my plan. The bottom left visuals display how many hours I slept (no wonder I need a nap). The last (pink) visual with footsteps is a badge I earned because I reached my personal goal of walking 10,000 steps per day. If I want to see more details about any metric, I simply hover over or click it.

All of this is great. There are, however, a few things I would modify in the design of the display:

  • I’d have the key inserted permanently at the bottom of the first bar graph instead obliging the user to hover over the latter to make the key appear. I’d also use a color other than yellow (hard to see against a white background) on the graph.
  • Extending the activity graph across the entire top section and moving the step and miles visuals next to each other on the second row would group similar metrics more logically and make them easier to interpret.
  • Substantial evidence shows that the more sleep-deprived we are, the more we tend eat, so it makes sense to place calorie and sleep statistics graphics side by side on the bottom row.
  • The circle visuals are similar to donut charts. I don’t generally recommend these for the display of the type of healthcare data we work with every day (read why in my December 7, 2012 newsletter), but they work here because they show progress toward a goal in a clear and simple manner — and as I explain below, they morph into something very amusing when you achieve a goal.

In addition to displaying badges and “Champ!” messages, the dashboard also turns the circle graphics into smiling face icons that send up a cheer for you, like this:


You might find this hokey, but it cracks me up every time. In fact, I like it so much that I actually find myself refreshing my browser just to get the cheering section to send me a shout-out again and again (and again).

In addition to all of this visual feedback, when I had walked 10,000 steps, my wristband vibrated to let me know I had hit my target. And of course, I can also check all of this information on my smartphone (= “electronic leash”), and connect with my fellow-user community online.

Quite simply– even for someone with the attention span of a gnat (like me) — this all works. I stay engaged and (so far) motivated. Clearly, there are a whole lot of great ideas at work here that we can recall when thinking about new and innovative ways to engage patients in their care and motivate them to take action. I know and can testify to the power of data feedback and visualization to:

* Engage patients in their own care

* Present data clearly and accurately

* Identify improvement opportunities

* Motivate people to take action

* Demonstrate the value of technology

Clearly the team at FitBit knows this, too. Bravo-well done!

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