Veterans’ perspectives on fitbit use in treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder: An interview study

Ada Ng*, Madhu Reddy, Alyson K. Zalta, Stephen M. Schueller

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


Background: The increase in availability of patient data through consumer health wearable devices and mobile phone sensors provides opportunities for mental health treatment beyond traditional self-report measurements. Previous studies have suggested that wearables can be effectively used to benefit the physical health of people with mental health issues, but little research has explored the integration of wearable devices into mental health care. As such, early research is still necessary to address factors that might impact integration including patients' motivations to use wearables and their subsequent data. Objective: The aim of this study was to gain an understanding of patients’ motivations to use or not to use wearables devices during an intensive treatment program for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). During this treatment, they received a complementary Fitbit. We investigated the following research questions: How did the veterans in the intensive treatment program use their Fitbit? What are contributing motivators for the use and nonuse of the Fitbit? Methods: We conducted semistructured interviews with 13 veterans who completed an intensive treatment program for PTSD. We transcribed and analyzed interviews using thematic analysis. Results: We identified three major motivations for veterans to use the Fitbit during their time in the program: increase self-awareness, support social interactions, and give back to other veterans. We also identified three major reasons certain features of the Fitbit were not used: lack of clarity around the purpose of the Fitbit, lack of meaning in the Fitbit data, and challenges in the veteran-provider relationship. Conclusions: To integrate wearable data into mental health treatment programs, it is important to understand the patient’s perspectives and motivations in using wearables. We also discuss how the military culture and PTSD may have contributed to our participants' behaviors and attitudes toward Fitbit usage. We conclude with possible approaches for integrating patient-generated data into mental health treatment settings that may address the challenges we identified.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere10415
JournalJMIR Mental Health
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 2018


  • Consumer health informatics
  • Fitness trackers
  • Mental health
  • PTSD
  • Patient generated health data
  • Post-traumatic
  • Stress disorders
  • Veterans

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychiatry and Mental health


Dive into the research topics of 'Veterans’ perspectives on fitbit use in treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder: An interview study'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this