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Wearable Devices to Fight Healthcare Burnout

Role: Principal Investigator 

Funding Sources:

  • Penn State College of Medicine Office of Faculty and Professional Development (internal)



  • Physicians are vulnerable to physical and emotional stress due to their demanding jobs. This risk has only been amplified during the COVID-19 pandemic.

  • A major barrier to self-care for physicians (and others) is a diminished ability to recognize declining health over time and identify self-care practices that are actually effective.

  • We piloted use of a commercial wearable biosensor among a small group of physicians to explore its usefulness in addressing these problems.

  • Results. User feedback concerning satisfaction and usefulness was very positive and participants supported broader use of the device within their organization.


The COVID-19 pandemic has contributed to tremendous emotional and physical strain on healthcare providers. While many providers acknowledge self-care as a critical component of overall well-being, an important barrier to self-care is a diminished ability to consistently recognize strain over time and more objectively identify self-care practices that are effective in improving it. The current wellness initiative sought to help Penn State faculty providers self-monitor and act on objective indicators of strain during COVID-19 utilizing a cost-effective and convenient wearable device. This project also took interest in understanding the physician end-user experience to help gauge potential for program expansion and formal study as a next step.



Five physician volunteers in the Department of Medicine were provided: (1) the WHOOP 3.0 strap: a wrist band featuring continuous measurement of health-relevant metrics (HRV, RHR, RR, Sleep), and (2) 12-month device membership (app, website), including a robust suite of features to monitor changes in metrics over time and link changes to lifestyle behaviors (e.g., physical activity). Physician volunteers provided feedback related to their experiences via individual quotes as well as an anonymous user survey using the electronic REDCap program.

Image by dusan jovic


Physicians shared their experiences related to the WHOOP device and membership service, some of which were featured in quotes within the July 2021 Penn State Health News article, “Wearable wellness: Fitness trackers keep faculty mindful of well being.” Feedback indicated that the initiative was helpful in improving mindfulness and awareness related to personal needs for rest and recovery: e.g., “Often, we are so busy in our day-to-day life that we don’t leave much time and space for routine reflection on what’s working well and what’s not; Utilizing the Whoop device has given me the ability to make check-ins with myself a daily habit.” 


Another theme that emerged was an appreciation for a more objective approach to monitoring wellness: e.g., “I appreciate data-driven approaches to balanced physical activity.” Self-reported survey results indicated that while mental and physical strain were at moderate-to-severe levels among users prior to participation, the initiative had either “some positive impact” or “significant positive impact” on several areas relevant to physician wellness:

  • ability to track health-relevant data

  • motivation to make behavioral changes to improve healt

  • awareness of changes in stress levels over time and the impact on their health behaviors (e.g., exercise, eating)

  • overall management of stress and mood

  • awareness and management of physical strain


Overall, users were likely to recommend this device or a similar device to a colleague and supported expanded use of this program within the hospital system more broadly. 

Conclusion and Next Steps

The WHOOP device and program membership are potentially acceptable, cost-effective tools for healthcare providers to self-monitor and improve wellness. Based on positive preliminary findings, there is potential to expand this initiative and study its impact among a larger and more diverse group within the healthcare workforce. Conducting a formal study among a larger sample of providers may eventually support expanded use throughout the healthcare workforce to reduce burnout and improve employee performance. We are excited to see this work move forward in the future!

Smiling medical personel
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