Woman using smart watch with a christmas tree in the background

Popular exercise monitors can carry as much organic material as jewelry in healthcare settings, indicating that hospitals may want to consider restricting their use among healthcare workers, a University of Virginia study has found. The researchers used Hygiena’s SystemSure Plus ATP Sanitation Monitoring System to collect their data.

While ATP detection can identify any organic material and not just bacteria, many healthcare facilities use ATP monitoring to help verify cleaning efforts. High levels of organic materials have been associated with hospital acquired infections (HAI), which the World Health Organization (WHO) has determined are a major factor leading to poor patient outcomes.

The study, conducted at the University of Virginia Health System University Hospital in Charlottesville, Virginia, and published in the American Journal of Infection Control, took ATP samples from the exercise trackers (Fitbits, Apple Watches and Garmin watches) worn by 35 healthcare professionals (nurses or nursing students and other practitioners) over eight days. ATP results, expressed in relative light units (RLUs), showed that very few exercise trackers were considered “clean,” (under Hygiena pass/fail limits ranging from 100 to 50 to 10 RLUs, depending on location). Only one tracker was “clean” according to the “near patient area” threshold of 25 RLUs. Most trackers were very “dirty” and failed, with an average RLU of 375 (the highest score was 1,353 RLUs).

While a small sample size, the study indicates the possible need for more restrictions on wearing exercise trackers in a healthcare setting. The researchers urged that larger, hospital-wide studies be carried out to garner more comprehensive data. Most hospitals currently restrict the wearing of jewelry below the wrist (and neonatal intensive care units usually forbid any jewelry or wearables), for the same sanitary reasons.