When you were growing up, the closest thing to a personal medical data collection device was probably a thermometer or bathroom scale. But nowadays, health trackers are much more sophisticated – and much more convenient to carry.

Smart watches from companies like Fitbit and Apple crowded with small sensors that show their findings on your smartphone. They can monitor heart rate, irregular heartbeat, blood oxygen levels, noise notifications and even hand washing. And, of course, your heart rate.


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Dr. Sumbul Desai, Apple’s vice president of health, demonstrated to correspondent David Pogg how the Apple Watch can warn you of dangerous sound levels, measure your cardio fitness and even perform an electrocardiogram.

“And if you want to choose to share this with your doctor, you can click ‘export to PDF,'” she said.


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But the most life-changing talent of the latest smartwatches is brand new: they can warn you early about medical problems. “For example, if you sleep more or sleep less than you’re used to, if your heart rate is different from your heart rate before, these are early signs of things that may be happening,” Desai said.

Pog asked, “Without having to check anything, will he actually tell me if he finds anything alarming?”

“Will be. Another is stability when walking, which means that if we notice changes in your gait, we can actually give you early notice where you can do something about it.

Then there is atrial fibrillation. It is a heart disease in which your heart beats instead of beating. About 6 million Americans have it, which often leads to stroke. The problem is that the episodes are periodic, so the doctor may miss them during your examination. But the clock is with you all the time. “Our watch can detect if your heart is beating out of rhythm and a notification will appear,” Desai said.


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Has this feature saved lives?

“Almost every day. Their doctors actually tell them, “I’m so glad you showed up when you did, because it could really have ended very differently.”

Stanford School of Medicine professor Michael Snyder is conducting several studies to see how far wearable devices can go in detecting disease. “You don’t drive your car without a dashboard,” he said. “And yet, we are here as people. We are more important than cars, but we run around without any sensors, most people. And I think we should wear these things because they can warn you of early things. “

Asked what conditions a smartwatch might one day find, Snyder said: “Infectious diseases, anemia, even type II diabetes. And then in the future I am quite convinced that there are certainly other things, heart disease. We’re working to see if we can detect cancer right now. “

Snyder tried his own medicine for a smartwatch last month. On the day of the flight, he felt congested. His own research application warned him about sudden changes in his breathing and heart rate: “So, I did a COVID test and it turned out I was negative. So, I went on and got on the plane. Big mistake”.

He I did have COVID. “I was listening to my COVID tests and I had to listen to my smartwatch,” he said.

And for sure, in a Fitbit study involving 100,000 peoplethese metabolic changes predicted COVID three days before any symptoms appeared.


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Right now, the Snyder app can’t say what’s causing the poor performance. “Currently, we cannot distinguish between certain types of stressors, such as stress at work and mental stress against COVID,” he said. “But we will in the future.”

Cambridge University professor Gina Neff is the co-author of a book on self-tracking and is generally a fan.

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“I’m here to say that this data is great,” she told Pogue. “People who follow themselves are more likely to be connected to other people, and when they are connected to other people, they are more likely to be happier.”

But she’s worried about who might see our medical records. “Imagine devices used in warehouses, to determine if someone is moving fast enough“She imagined.” Imagine devices you sign up for to help you learn to be a safer driver, but instead it is used to increase your insurance premiums. These are scenarios that are used in companies today. “

At least Apple and Fitbit say they can’t see your data. According to Desai, “Apple does not have access to any health information about the user. It is on the device, encrypted and under the control of the user.”

“You don’t have an engineer to check the oxygen level in David Pogg’s blood?”

“Absolutely not.”

For Michael Snyder of Stanford, the promise of detecting wrist disease is a goal worth pursuing: “Three and eight people on the planet have a smartphone, but if you can pair it with a $ 50 smartwatch, you’ll have a surveillance system. the health of 3.8 billion people. I think we’re just on top of the iceberg of what’s possible. “

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A story produced by Amol Mhatre. Editor: Mike Levine.


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