Many of us use some sort of medical apps and devices, like Fitbit or Jawbone, designed to monitor, track, diagnose, or inform, to give insight into our health. But a burgeoning category of medical apps is taking our metrics obsession and placing the focus on babies—yes, devices to track infant health are all the rage. JAMA recently released a perspective paper, The Emerging Market of Smartphone-Integrated Infant Physiologic Monitors, that questions the accuracy and usefulness of such technology.

Parents undoubtedly want the best for their children’s health, so it’s concerning that people still believe baby wearables can help with problems like tachycardia, sleep apnea, a slow heart rate, SIDS, and oxygen desaturation. Two years ago, iMedicalApps investigated the state of baby monitoring and reviewed some of these baby wearables including Owlet, a smartsock and Sproutling’s baby band. The problems we found then are the same problems the industry is dealing with today.

In the article we published 2 years ago, Dr. Satish Misra’s comments were on point and still just as relevant today:

I’d also caution parents that there’s no data to support claims that these devices will really sound an alarm if something bad is about to happen. And there’s the risk that these devices will provide false reassurance when a child is actually sick, preventing a call to the pediatrician that a parent may otherwise have made.

Then there’s the issue of what to do with the data being captured. Unlike say a blood pressure monitor in a hypertensive adult or an AliveCor in someone with palpitations, these devices are capturing a lot of physiologic data in healthy infants. While use of activity tracking in sleep training (the most commonly cited use case) at least seems intuitively plausible to me, a lot of the other data is information we just don’t know how to use in this context (continuous monitoring of healthy infants) and could expose kids to unneeded downstream testing.

In the JAMA paper, Christopher Bonafide, MD et. al examined the popularity of these products that claim to monitor infants and determined that they don’t work and could potentially be harmful to both children and their parents. While self-monitoring is becoming popular with health systems around the world for cost, convenience, and the amount of data, these are suitable for independent adults who can otherwise articulate symptoms. But when untrained parents start playing pediatrician with limited and sometimes false data, it can cause more harm for their children.

Dr. Bonafide states:

“These devices are marketed aggressively to parents of healthy babies, promising peace of mind about their child’s cardiorespiratory health. But there is no evidence that these consumer infant physiological monitors are life-saving or even accurate, and these products may cause unnecessary fear, uncertainty, and self-doubt in parents.”

Baby-monitoring devices don’t work as claimed or as inferred by the consumer. There are no reasons to monitor an otherwise healthy child at home. And it’s up to clinicians to make this abundantly clear to parents.

baby monitoring medical apps