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.


Pic­ture: LUKE BOW­DEN

Madeleine West­land us­ing the new Fit­bit Versa while work­ing out at the gym

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