Fitbit says it can solve medical student depression

Medical school graduates face alarming rates of depression, anxiety and other mental health issues during their high-stress internships, but Fitbit thinks it can help, CNBC reports.

Researchers at Ann Arbor-based University of Michigan have enrolled more than 2,000 medical interns from schools across the U.S. each year for a decadeslong study into their mental health.

"During the first year of training, rates of depression [go] up, risk of suicide goes up, anxiety goes up and part of what we're studying is why that is and who's at risk and what environmental elements put them at risk," Srijan Sen, MD, PhD, professor of depression and neurosciences at Michigan Medicine, told CNBC.

Now, Fitbit is getting in on the University of Michigan-led study with the idea that consumer-generated data can help identify signs of depression. The interns have each been given one of the company's activity trackers so researchers can analyze sleep interruptions and varying activity levels, which might contribute to mental health problems.  

"We see indications that sleep can get pretty erratic, especially for medical interns who are shift workers," Jonathan Charlesworth, PhD, a research scientist at Fitbit and neuroscientist, told CNBC. "We're seeing that correlate to depressive symptoms."

The researchers aren't intervening yet, instead figuring out which feedback would be most valuable, such as flagging when participants get less sleep than average.

"What we want to do is provide them with tools to help themselves," said Dr. Sen. "The study is an important step, [but ultimately young physicians need] more human hours and built-in ways to take care of themselves."

More articles on physician integration issues:

New York hospital severs 24-year tie with anesthesiology provider
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Study: Black male patients respond more to black physicians

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