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A Los Angeles hospital is using Fitbits to help patients go home sooner

  • Cedars-Sinai hospital in Los Angeles gives out free Fitbit devices to encourage patients to walk after surgery.
  • While 10,000 steps is a typical target for healthy people, patients are aiming for 1,000.

Getting out of bed after a surgery is often a challenge. At Cedars-Sinai Hospital in Los Angeles, the doctors have figured out a new way to motivate patients: Fitbits.

The hospital is giving out Fitbit activity trackers to its patients after knee replacements, hip replacements and other surgeries, to encourage them to start walking short distances.

For healthy people, 10,000 steps a day is a typical goal. But the doctors at Cedars-Sinai found that patients that reach even 1,000 steps are usually discharged sooner than those who don't.

"Patients need to walk after they've had a surgery," said Brennan Spiegel, director of health services research at Cedars-Sinai, in an interview with CNBC. "There's decades of research, so we know that."

Spiegel is among the medical professionals who started working with Fitbit as the company expanded beyond the consumer market and into research and clinical studies. Fitbit told CNBC in September that it's unfazed by rivals like Apple and Samsung, in part due to the company's focus on health and medical applications.

"We can use Fitbit to do something that's actionable," Spiegel said.

Steps logged by the Fitbit are featured on an interactive board in the patient's room, alongside data on the average number of steps achieved by other patients recovering from the same surgery. The goal is to help patients reach realistic targets.

Walking around a hospital isn't the most inspiring activity. To make things a bit more fun, doctors at Cedars developed an app featuring the hospital's artwork. There are tours that take exactly 250 steps to reach a specific painting or mural.

"It really encourages patients to get out and walk for a reason," said Timothy Daskivich, a doctor at Cedars.