Cedars-Sinai researchers test activity trackers to predict postoperative length of stay

Researchers at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles found that tracking a patient's step count can help predict their length of stay after surgery, according to study results published in JAMA.

The researchers enrolled 100 patients undergoing major surgeries, such as gastric bypasses or hip replacements, at Cedars-Sinai from July 2016 to August 2017 for the study. Each patient was given a Fitbit Charge activity tracker after their operation, which they were encouraged to wear throughout their hospital stay.

The researchers found that the Fitbit devices accurately measured patients' step counts. That's a useful metric, since early ambulation — or light activity such as standing or walking — after surgery is a vital indicator of length of stay, the researchers wrote in the study.

"We measure everything about our patients — whether it's heart rate, blood pressure, et cetera — but nowhere do we measure steps, even though we know steps are so important for a patient's well-being," Brennan Spiegel, MD, senior author and director of the Center for Outcomes Research and Education at Cedars-Sinai, said in a news release.

In fact, patients with high step counts on the first day after surgery were significantly less likely to have a prolonged length of stay, according to the study results.

The researchers suggested wearable activity trackers could one day be used to identify patients at risk for prolonged length of stay, by tracking which patients are not engaging in high step counts after surgery.

"We're operationalizing this pop culture tech device for a real clinical purpose in the hospital, and using rigorous science to guide the process," Timothy Daskivich, MD, lead author and director of health services research at Cedars-Sinai's surgery department, added. "We think it's exciting and patients are responding to it."

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