I remember when Apple Watch first came out vividly because we had already been studying the wearable market, largely for health and fitness, for a few years. I was super excited to see what Apple had up their sleeve with this first product but had a hard time understanding why I, a relatively healthy and active person, needed for it.
Before using Apple Watch, and even the first few years in, I was still addicted to the notifications not the health and fitness elements. I know many healthy and active people, like my wife, swear by the data they love to track for goals they set, but that was not me. It wasn’t until recently I really understood the value from a preventative health standpoint, but also, more importantly, a deeper insight into the health I do have.
Two experiences got me thinking about how much the world of medical health will change once these two things become pervasive, and can benefit from mass amounts of data collected by millions of people.
My first experience was around blood pressure. While there isn’t a blood pressure monitor for Apple Watch, I’m certain there will be a band accessory someday that will do this. Omron is already testing their own blood pressure smartwatch, and I wrote about my experience with that product when I saw it at CES this last January. Having access to a real-time blood pressure monitor where you can check BP anytime anywhere, is going to yield enormous amounts of helpful data. Most people don’t understand what lifestyle, or food, related things they engage in and how it impacts their blood pressure. This information has the potential to help us better understand things we should or shouldn’t do as well as should or should not eat as it may impact our overall heart health.
I first encountered this eye-opening experience when I went in for a routine check-up and registered with slightly higher blood pressure than they want to see in someone my age. I checked my blood pressure, on average, five times a day for a few weeks after that doctor visit and discovered certain food dramatically raise my blood pressure and often keep it raised for many hours. This is not something I could have learned without constant checking of my blood pressure. Having access to this on our wrist, coupled with better machine learning to help us pair that blood pressure data with recent activity, diet, and other useful metrics will lead to health, and heart health breakthroughs I’m certain.
The second experience was around an EKG. AliveCor makes pocketable EKG monitors that you sync to your phone and can record EKGs. They came out with a band for Apple Watch that brings that same technology to your wrist with a new feature that continually tracks your heart rate and specifically watches for anomalies. If one is spotted, it alerts you and suggests you take an EKG at that moment to get a closer look at what is going on. Using this product was a fascinating experience, even for someone like me who thankfully has no heart issues.
Here are a few pictures of the band, the SmartRythym monitoring feature, and a EKG result which you can view on your watch or on your smartphone via the app. This product is already FDA approved and the data collected can be used with a doctor or health specialist who you can send data to. The first time you use the Kardia band, it asks you to take your first EKG which is then sent to a board-approved cardiologist to review. This was a little stressful because you couldn’t see the results right away as it said it would take 24 hours or so to get the results. Luckily, it came back as normal but that was a little more anxiety than I needed at that moment in time!
Both of these products are 100% invaluable to anyone today who needs to track an issue with their heart. Not just for peace of mind, but even if simply to better understand what conditions in daily routine can lead to issues. Ultimately, it will be the information gathered from millions of people and then cross-referenced with different variables which will lead to health breakthroughs in the coming years. In fact, I think it is safe to say that we could see more health-related breakthroughs in the next ten years than in the past 30 combined thanks to wearable technology.
While we are still in the early stages, it is also important to understand some of the downsides. Which consist of things, hopefully, technology will help solve. Here are some of my thoughts, having experienced or talked to people where this happened.
- False Positives: I’ve heard from friends, and even a few stories people sent me via Twitter, where a false positive by Apple Watch on a potential anomaly in heartbeat sent them to see their doctor in a panic. While the Apple Watch has certainly made headlines saving people’s lives, the technology can improve to the point that needless worry does not arise from false positives. We also don’t want doctors to become frustrated with this technology and try to avoid it because they see more false positives than actual issues and thus waste their time on healthy patients when they can focus on those who really need the help.
- Anxiety. Another big concern I have is that giving humans clear and visual access to their vital signs in real-time could create more anxiety than good on a regular basis. Take the AliveCor Kardia band I have been using as an example. Each time you take an EKG, upon completing, it runs that data through an engine to look for something out of the ordinary. This process takes a few seconds, and every single time I did this, I worried just a little thinking “what if it comes back anything other than normal?” It did each, time but that concern was still there because there was always that chance it detected something I should be concerned about. We humans are good at worrying, and that leads to anxiety and all other sorts of mental health issues. Having all your vitals being seen and detected in real-time has the change to mess with the mind and in turn cause harm.
For me, using this technology was an eye-opening experience. Getting insights into your vital signs on a regular basis has its pros and cons as you are exposed to way more data than you are probably used to seeing. Consumers need to be able to make sense of this data or be able to easily share it with people who do. Machine learning will play a key role in this dynamic as, when implemented correctly, can analyze the data and look for trends or anomalies. One thing this whole experience made me think is as these smart assistants like Siri, Google Assistant, and Amazon’s Alexa evolve, they will absolutely need to include health data and in some ways have health assistant capabilities as well.
When it comes to the product and ecosystem, I still see no one on the horizon who can challenge Apple in this regard. I’d like to see some healthy competition in the wearable tech space but we are still waiting for a serious contender to emerge.