Potential New Health Features for Apple Watch

on February 16, 2021

When Apple introduced the Apple Watch, they initially positioned it as jewelry that also told time and a few health features.

However, over the last three years, Apple has added many health and fitness features to the Apple Watch, most recently adding ECG and Blood Oxygen monitoring.

Since Apple introduced the Apple Watch and made health monitoring a reason for it to exist, I have wanted two other distinct health features.

The first is related to blood sugar readings for people with diabetes. I have been a diabetic for over 25 years, and at least three times I day, I had to prick my finger to see what my blood sugar readings were and adjust my insulin dose accordingly.

About five years ago, I began using the Dexcom Continuous Glucose monitor to monitor my blood sugars electronically and do away with the pinpricks.

The Dexcom Glucose monitor consists of a sensor patch that I place on my stomach with two tiny prongs that get inserted into my belly that analyzes the interstitial fluids to read my blood sugars. That sensor is connected to a Bluetooth transmitter that then sends that reading to my iPhone, and through the Dexcom app on my Apple Watch, I can see what my blood sugar readings are 24/7.

Three years ago, Apple hinted that this type of blood sugar reading might be able to be done via some special light sensors in an Apple Watch someday, and I admit that I got excited about this prospect. Although my medical insurance covers 50% of the Dexcom product cost, I will pay about $1500 a year for my share of the Dexcom bill.

At CES, a Japanese startup, Quantum Operation, put a glucometer into a watch. Although this was a prototype if indeed Quantum Operation has solved how-to but a blood sugar sensor that uses light to get blood sugar readings, this would be a breakthrough.

Three years later, Apple still has not found a way to add this feature to the Apple watch, although I have seen recent reports that this feature could be in the new Apple Watch later this year.

Samsung is also planning to add blood sugar testing light sensors to their watch shortly.

This would be a promising development that suggests a light sensor-based blood sugar solution could be built into smartwatches in the future.

The second feature that I wanted in the Apple Watch has been for it to read my blood pressure. I had a triple bypass in 2012 and need to take my blood pressure daily. Some attempts to do this with smartwatch bands make the smartwatch bulky since it uses the band like a BP cuff to expand like traditional blood pressure readings you get in a dedicated blood pressure monitor.

At CES, Biospectal showed off its Biospectal OptiBP, which lets a person use a smartphone camera to measure blood pressure. This technology was introduced last fall, and Forbes did a great piece on this product launch of what I consider a highly important health monitoring technology.

If you have been to any doctor, you know that taking your blood pressure is one of the first things they do in any visit. This is because it can tell them a great deal about a person’s heart health at the center of many medical conditions.

This company used CES 2021 to highlight it. The company said a recent independent large-scale clinical study from Scientific Reports in Nature validated Biospectal’s OptiBP ability to measure blood pressure with the same degree of accuracy as the traditional blood pressure cuff. It uses the smartphone’s built-in optical camera lens to record and measure a user’s blood flow at the fingertip in half the time it takes with a traditional cuff (about 20 seconds). I could not find the minimum smartphone camera requirements to allow for this type of BP test. However, I suspect more recent smartphone cameras could be used for this. OptiBP’s proprietary algorithm and optical signal capture methods turn light information into blood pressure values by optically measuring blood flow through the skin.

The Biospectal OptiBP for Android app is in public beta and available now in the US, UK, France, Germany, Spain, and Switzerland. Biospectal OptiBP for the iOS app is planned for release later this year. The company said that interested participants could register for the public beta or sign up to be notified once Biospectal OptiBP becomes available in their country.

These are breakthrough developments that bode well for wearable health monitors and gives me hope that sometime soon, Apple, Samsung, and others may be able to add these two new health-monitoring features to eventual smartwatches and even fitness trackers.

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