How boom in smartwatches could save lives
SMARTWATCHES are transforming into full-blown medical devices that can assess fitness levels, flag sleep problems, monitor heart rhythms and help users to fall pregnant.
But a world-first study into the devices, based in Australia, is being launched to test whether wearable technology really can save lives, and if doctors should be prescribing Fitbits and Apple Watches along with healthy diets and exercise.
Sydney’s Westmead Private Hospital associate professor Saurabh Kumar, who will conduct the research after being awarded a CSANZ-Bayer Young Investigator Grant, said smartwatch wearers were already approaching doctors based on heart-rate information collected from the technology, and cardiologists needed to know just how accurate and reliable their readings were.
“A lot of patients do go to GPs having no symptoms but their wearable device has prompted them to see a doctor,” he said.
“There are also isolated reports of people being diagnosed with heart conditions on the basis of high heart rates.
“Given the recent explosion in wearable devices, we need to systematically and scientifically evaluate these devices against a gold standard and determine whether they are capable of detecting changes in heart rate and common cardiac rhythm problems.”
Advanced health features in the latest generation of smartwatches include a yet-to-bereleased electrocardiogram monitor in the Apple Watch 4, stress assessments inside Samsung’s Galaxy Watch, and the ability to track heart rate, deep and light sleep cycles, and even women’s reproductive cycles with the Fitbit Versa smartwatch.
The information collected from these devices could tip off doctors to health problems including sleep apnoea, metabolic disorders, or atrial fibrillation, an irregular heart rhythm.
Fitbit Asia Pacific Health Solutions director John Gillman said its fitness trackers were designed to help users manage their health, rather than replace a doctor, but it launched a program called Fitbit Care this month offering coaching and disease prevention for health insurance companies and employers.
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Madeleine Westland using the new Fitbit Versa while working out at the gym