A smart life saver
Study to examine if wearable technology can monitor health
SMARTWATCHES are transforming into full-blown medical devices capable of not just assessing fitness levels but of flagging sleep problems, monitoring heart rhythms and helping users to fall pregnant.
A world-first Australian study into the devices will test if wearable technology really can save lives, and if doctors should be prescribing Fitbits and Apple Watches along with healthy diets and exercise.
Associate Professor Saurabh Kumar will conduct the research after being awarded a CSANZ-Bayer Young Investigator Grant.
He 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 readings were. “A lot of patients do go to GPs having no symptoms but their wearable device has prompted them to see a doctor,” said Prof Kumar, of Sydney’s Westmead Private Hospital.
“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-tobe-released electrocardiogram monitor in the Apple Watch 4, stress assessments inside Samsung’s Galaxy Watch, and the ability to track heart rate, sleep cycles, and even 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 that is a major cause of strokes in Australia.