The current generation of smartwatches can track your steps, detect what activities you perform, calculate your calorie burn and monitor and measure your heart rate. These solo functions are valuable for a wide variety of people, although these smartwatches are yet to break into healthcare with any real force, a market which many people thought would be a key beneficiary of the smartwatch revolution.
The biggest challenge smartwatches face with healthcare is that the data they collect isn’t guaranteed accurate. For instance, no OEM has published a percentage accuracy of the optical heart rate monitor on their smartwatch. This means that a feature such as heart rate monitoring, which could be useful, is just a gimmick. Or is it?
Hope for medical detection with Smartwatches
Geneticist and Stafford University professor Michael Snyder believes that in the future, smartwatches could warn you about underlying health issues and detect symptoms of illness. Imagine being able to diagnose a cold, before your nose blocks up and your chest develops a cough. The ability to detect illness through wearables isn’t just a pipedream either. Snyder contracted Lyme disease when treating a tick-infested field a few years ago, and he realized he might have the disease when his heart rate did not return to normal after a flight. Snyder persuaded a doctor to prescribe the appropriate antibiotic for Lyme disease, so he could resume his holiday, after which Lyme disease was confirmed.
Snyder believes that by measuring yourself all the time, healthcare professionals will be able to diagnose health issues. And in Snyder’s case, a smartwatch that monitored his heart rate and alerted him of his heart rate’s abnormality could have made diagnosis even easier. But the potential applications go way further than this. For instance, a change in day-to-day heart rate may signify that certain ailments are brewing, or it could signify that a person with Type 2 diabetes needs insulin. It is thought that smartwatches and other wearable devices could be tailored to people with specific illnesses, to help them with medical care.
The benefits of this are obvious. Rather than relying on human-monitored healthcare, a person will be able to live a freer life thanks to a device that monitors their health for them. Or in another scenario, a person with the flu will be able to monitor their heart rate to detect when they are getting better and adjust their medication themselves.
However, there is an issue with the research, and that issue involves normality. You see, we are always exposed to things as human beings that make our bodies change. And, just because our heart rate goes up, that does not mean we are getting ill. As such, more research is needed to get to the bottom of wearables and how they can improve healthcare.
National Institutes of Health (NIH), a biomedical research facility in Maryland, is to conduct key research over the next year into “precision medicine” with wearable devices expected to form a part of the study. It remains to be seen whether smartwatches do have a place in medical detection and diagnosis, but the early signs are certainly promising. NIH’s report is planned to begin this year. The findings of the report should be reported by the media, and we will have more information when news comes in. Until then, stay healthy folks.