Do you want to have more control over your health?  Monitor it.  By collecting vital status on your health – heart rate, activity and other measures – you can set goals and track your successes.  There are now so many devices to help you do this, there is no excuse for not trying.

For about a decade, tech companies pointed to the emergence of telemedicine services that allow hospitals and doctors to remotely monitor of patient vital signs (heart rate, temperature and glucose).  These early applications are having success in reducing medical costs and saving lives.  More recently, however, there has been an explosion of wireless applications specifically for consumer use.  These applications allow consumers to track vital signs and manage their health and fitness.  Here is a brief description of some of the new applications exhibited in the 2013 International Consumer Electronics Show.

HAPILABS makes devices – resembling buttons and watches – that provide various health measurements, including tracking and managing applications for exercising, eating and sleeping.  The tracking helps motivate consumers and the tracking reinforces progress toward personal goals.  Consumers can track their results online or on their smart phone.  BodyMedia produces an arm strap that measures activity and caloric burn, and it tracks the quality of the user’s sleep.  However, this bluetooth device (priced $149) requires a subscription (around $5 a month) to a cloud-based service for tracking.  Alternatively, Basis offers a watch-like sensor that measures motion, heart rate, perspiration and skin temperature.  It is a little more upfront ($199) but it includes free lifetime access to its cloud service.

Tanita sells a whole line of scales that measure body fat and water, weight, bone and muscle mass, and some include health models that calculate metabolic age and other features – including some that providing data directly to electronic devices via Wi-Fi and Bluetooth.  Another body monitoring scale is offered by Withings that tracks your weight, body fat, heart rate, as well as the indoor air quality, and it is also accessible through Wi-Fi or Bluetooth.  Withings also offers a small device that tracks your steps, distance, calories, heart rate and sleep quality for wireless access.  Another small device, with much of the same functionality is available from fitbit, which offers the fibit flex for $100 and it syncs to wireless devices, including PCs and the Mac.

Athletes, trainers and just fitness-wise consumers can benefit from many of these devices, but a few focused on strength, training and performance.  In particular, Polar offers a wide range of products that provide wireless monitoring for athletes as well as recreational exercisers.  The small clip-on Vert device by Mayfonk measures the vertical jump of athletes and allows real time tracking sent to PCs, tablets and smart phones.  A headband by Spree provides heartbeat, motion and body temperature monitoring that is streamed wirelessly to your smart phone.  Ibitz provides simple wireless monitoring of activity for the whole family with units as low as $35.  Skechers also offers affordable devices (starting from $39 with a free app) that monitors heart rate and more, and it is compatible with the iPhone or Droid.

The abundance of devices makes it easier to keep your New Year’s resolutions.  But there are three observations worth noting:

  • Not all of these devices have a proven track record and like many of the newer upstarts in this field, they may be here today and gone tomorrow.  We recommend that you follow consumer reviews before committing to anything too expensive.
  • Not all devices are not ready for primetime, and that is why we do not see all of these products in area stores.  For example, we watched a representative struggle to open a pill box on a “fool-proof” electronic device designed to remind seniors take their medicine.  If a representative can’t open it, neither can seniors.
  • Some products have a higher upfront cost, while others include a subscription fee.  Consider the expected life of the product before making a decision.  For now, we believe that streaming directly to your PC, tablet or smart phone is the best option, since privacy of the health data is important.
  • Remember that most devices only compare your statistics to yourself, and most do not compare your results to the population.

Overall, we were very impressed by the sheer number of wireless health monitoring devices at the International Consumer Electronics Show.  From the looks of it, consumers will have new ways to collect, track, manage and improving their health, and that will be a clear benefit for maintaining a health lifestyle.

Steve Pociask is president of the American Consumer Institute Center for Citizen Research