Applying wearables technology for use in clinical and public health interventions

The widespread adoption of consumer electronics over the past decade—including wearable sensors and smartphones—has significantly strengthened the ability of individuals, clinicians, and researchers to understand and intervene in many aspects of personal and population health.

Sensors are devices that convert physical properties into corresponding electrical signals. When these products are worn by an individual, sensors record data that are translated into meaningful clinical endpoints. For example, accelerometers convert velocity changes into electrical impulses that are used to quantify the amount of physical activity that a person performs over a period of time. This activity is typically recorded as steps or distance traveled

Both consumers and researchers have rapidly adopted personal-sensor technologies to track and modify personal health. While these technologies have generated great excitement from researchers hoping to harness their power, the devices vary dramatically in function, validity, and level of regulatory oversight. Many policies and regulations are rapidly changing to enable the use of wearable data for research, but widespread challenges remain.

By the Numbers: Wearable Technology

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Consumer wearable devices available


Registered clinical trials reporting use of wearables for data collection


Published papers describing the use of Fitbit devices in research

The Emergence of “Real World Data”

Study sponsors, researchers, and clinicians are increasingly interested in using wearables and sensor devices to collect data, but two key problems exist: 1) There is a deficit in the expertise and technology infrastructure to incorporate wearable devices into current research programs, and 2) in cases where wearables’ data are collected, there is an inability to manage and analyze the data in a meaningful way.

Experts at RTI International can help you. We conduct basic research on the validity and reliability of the wearable products, provide guidance and technical support to plan and implement studies that use wearables for data collection, manage pilot and demonstration programs, and monitor and evaluate efforts to that ensure they generate trusted and actionable data.

RTI International’s Wearables Research and Analytics Platform (WRAP) provides an end-to-end solution that enables research teams to collect, manage, and analyze wearables data from large cohort studies in a streamlined, evidence-based, and cost-effective manner. The WRAP technology stack is deployed on the Microsoft Azure cloud and provides a robust, scalable, and highly secure platform for sensitive study data.

Introducing WRAP™—The Wearables Research and Analytics Platform

WRAP enables research teams to collect, manage, and analyze wearables data from large cohort studies in a streamlined, evidence-based, and cost-effective manner.

Let Us Help You

Experts at RTI can help you with the following:

  • Identify, evaluate, and select the most appropriate wearable for use in your study
  • Conduct validity or reliability testing to confirm or compare performance between target devices
  • Negotiate research and bulk discounts with preferred vendors
  • Procure devices and manage shipping logistics for large orders
  • Configure wearables for use on your study and distribute them to study participants
  • Obtain informed consent and onboard a distributed sample
  • Create training or technical reference material for individuals or study staff
  • Inform advanced data analytics and visualization for reporting.

RTI’s Personal Sensor Data Framework: Observation – Intervention – Prediction


The most basic research function that sensor-based technologies support is the observation of health-relevant behaviors and physiological measures over time. Sensor-based technologies present potential advancements in observational research since the data collected are objective, passive, and continuous—all of which serve to yield results that incur less bias. For the National Institutes of Health, RTI uses consumer wearable devices to collect measures of physical activity, sedentary time, and sleep from study participants on large-scale, longitudinal cohort studies.


Sensor-based technologies can also be used to create feedback systems to support interventions. The upload of sensor data to external sources can be used to identify areas for improvement, which can then generate personalized feedback in real time or at a later date. For the Department of Justice, RTI uses specialized, research-grade wearable devices to collect high-quality data on physiological indicators of stress and provide tailored feedback for participants in studies of psychological resilience and stress management.


Personal sensor data can also be used for the prediction of behaviors or future disease states through pattern recognition. Sensor-based technologies can capture prospective data leading to an event of interest, which can be used to predict future events. For the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, RTI uses clinical-grade wearable devices and in vivo sensors to collect measures of cardiac function and tissue oxygenation to enable presymptomatic detection of viral illness.