Wearables and Preventative Health
When the idea of health and fitness wearables starting hitting the market, I was a critic of the health side. Mostly because I understood the health angle to be more focused on the value proposition of health monitoring for people who knew they had health issues. This is still the case for many people today.
My father, for example, has Type 2 Diabetes and uses his Apple Watch to monitor his blood sugar in real-time. He has written extensively about it and how he uses Apple Watch as a health monitoring tool. Even in our own research of the market, we noticed the trend of people speaking with their doctors and being recommended a Fitbit or Apple Watch to monitor heart rate for irregularities, to make sure they were getting enough exercise to assist in lowering blood pressure or help to strengthen heart health due to a condition. Overall health monitoring is a key part of a wearable’s value today, if you happen to have a condition in need of monitoring.
This was the root of my initial criticism. For myself, mid-thirties and not having any health issues, I didn’t see the value in health monitoring. However, where things start to get really interesting for those of us without health problems is as wearables begin to play a role in preventative health.
A report came out recently from an app called Cardiogram, which is said to predict an irregular heartbeat with up to 97% accuracy. Which becomes interesting if you had not been previously diagnosed with an irregular heartbeat. Having such an app on your Apple Watch can aid in discovering health problems before the person has any symptoms and thus help lead to treatment which can prevent further problems. This is just the tip of the iceberg for how a wearable can aid in preventative health.
I recently went in for my regular checkup with my doctor and she realized my blood pressure was starting to tip toward the hypertension range. This is the kind of thing I learned you don’t want to let go on for too long as it can create heart problems in the future. So I ordered a Bluetooth-connected blood pressure monitor to track my blood pressure throughout the day, something I’ve never done before but I was intent on getting my blood pressure lower and to avoid medication. Fascinatingly, through a process of elimination, I learned that gluten is a key culprit in not just raising my blood pressure but keeping it high. The simple process of eliminating gluten got my blood pressure back down below 120/80. This was something I would have never found out or discovered had I not been monitoring my blood pressure and analyzing what was causing it get and stay high. It was an eye-opening experience in using technology for preventative health.
The next logical step is to embed all these tools to check and monitor our vital signs (heart rate, blood pressure, blood sugar, and more), equip software to do deeper analysis of our data, and machine learning/AI to be proactive about finding things which may be damaging our bodies and organs then notify us so we can make changes to prevent any real damage. Oftentimes, diet is a key factor in disease but many people have no idea what the food they eat is doing to their bodies. Being able to monitor and check our vital signs in real time can lead to those insights and ultimately help humans make lifestyle decisions which can keep them healthier longer and spot diseases which could be prevented if detected early.
We are getting closer to having the technology which can do this. Rumors have been circling that both Apple and Google have been stepping up their initiatives to bring glucose/blood sugar monitoring to their wearable platforms. Friends in the health tech and health sciences have been saying there are promising technological breakthroughs which have happened that can pave the way to bringing blood pressure monitoring to things like Apple Watch in the short-term future as well. As interesting, and valuable, as the Apple Watch and other wearable platforms are today, their ultimate upside will be as they transition from health monitoring to preventative health.