Study puts wearable devices to fitness test
SMARTWATCHES are transforming into full-blown medical devices capable of not only flagging sleep problems and monitoring heart rhythms but assessing fitness levels and helping women 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 whether 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, said smartwatch wearers were already approaching doctors based on heart-rate information collected from the technology, and cardiologists needed to know just how accurate the 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. “We need to systematically ... 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-tobe-released electrocardiogram monitor in the Apple Watch 4, stress assessments by Samsung’s Galaxy Watch, and the ability to track women’s reproductive cycles by the Fitbit Versa Smartwatch.
The information could alert doctors to health problems including sleep apnoea, metabolic disorders, or atrial fibrillation – an irregular heart rhythm – which is a major cause of strokes.
Dr Kumar said initial study findings could be available next year, but the research was likely to continue “as cardiologists try to work out what role this technology will play in the healthcare system”.