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Can You Rely On Modern Wearable Devices to Accurately Monitor Your Health?

Can You Rely On Modern Wearable Devices to Accurately Monitor Your Health?

Can You Rely On Modern Wearable Devices to Accurately Monitor Your Health? | Afrocritik

Wearable devices are highly recommended because of the immense benefits they offer. You can monitor vital signs such as blood pressure and heart rate by simply looking at the smartwatch or fitness tracker on your wrist. 

By Michael Akuchie 

In the past, the primary way to monitor your health was to meet with a doctor physically. Nowadays, telemedicine augments traditional care by allowing patients to speak with their physicians virtually through video calls or instant messaging. Additionally, people can now keep a close eye on their health through wearable technology. 

According to Tech Target, wearable technology refers to any type of electronic device that is designed to be worn externally on a person’s body. These could range from hearing aids to a skin patch equipped with sensors that send a patient’s data to a hospital. 

Wearable technology has some interesting advantages, with the most stated being that it allows individuals to be more mindful of their health through constant monitoring. According to GFC Global, a platform dedicated to providing users with self-paced skill courses, wearable technology such as smartwatches not only serves as a portable health tracker but can be used to determine your location when in an unknown are.  It can also be used to view text messages. 

It is worth mentioning that the use cases of wearable technology are not limited to healthcare. Recent advancements in technology have allowed wearables to be used in activities such as entertainment (virtual reality headsets) and fashion (smart clothing). 

Smartwatches and fitness trackers are the most common examples of health-based wearable devices. One may be curious to know why the most popular wearables for healthcare are built specifically for the wrist. Why the wrist exactly? The Healthcare Information and Management Society (HIMSS), a global advisor on healthcare, shed light on this. Robert Havasy, a senior director of connected health at HIMSS, said: “There is a reason that watches have been utilised for a couple of centuries — the wrist is a convenient place to display vital information.” Beyond the convenience benefit, you can also check vital signs such as a pulse directly from your wrist. 

Wearable devices are recommended for people because of the immense benefits they offer. In an article published in the United States National Library of Medicine, wearables can be utilised by medical practitioners to diagnose conditions within patients. This is possible through patients sharing the device’s data with their physicians. The article also noted that some wearables were invented to identify COVID-19 symptoms by measuring the vital signs of individuals. 

Patients with mobility restrictions can take advantage of wearables and forgo frequent trips to the clinic by simply transmitting real-life data from the devices to their physicians. It should be noted however that this does not replace a physical visit but only supplements it. Also, individuals living far away from a hospital can use wearables to monitor their health. 

Curious to know whether wearables are beneficial to individuals outside of theory, I spoke with two smartwatch owners to share their outcomes with their devices so far. Art and music writer, Tamilore Osho, has owned a smartwatch (FitPro) for over a year which she uses primarily for fitness monitoring. “I got the smartwatch mainly because of my interest in fitness, particularly jogging and playing tennis. Having a watch that could track my vital signs, especially heart rate, in the middle of a jog or a tennis game has been an amazing experience so far”, she said.  Osho also shared that the watch has been a great tool in her fitness journey. The ability to read the data collected from the watch on her larger phone screen is also a nice feature, she mentioned. 

For Praise Osawaru, a writer and an intern at a Lagos-based insurance company, his Oraimo Smart Watch 4 Plus has been a reliable companion during his morning commute to work. He said: “I do a lot of walking on the way to work and my smartwatch enables me to keep up with my daily steps, heart rate, calories burned. It’s also pretty functional so I can receive calls, view messages, and remotely control my playlist through the device.” 

Although wearables are advantageous to users, some concerns deserve to be mentioned. One of the major disadvantages is the worry about data privacy. For clarity, vital signs such as blood pressure and heart rate are considered to be data. Even sleep patterns and the number of steps walked per day count as such. Therefore, such information should only be available to the owner and the physician who the data is shared with. A breach occurs when a third party can access the data. A common practice for smartphones, smart TVs, and even wearable manufacturers today is to collect customer or user data for various purposes. As such, a wearable company can have easy access to patient data, a fact that raises concerns about how it is used and its safety against breach attempts

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A data breach could lead to millions of patient data being sold on the dark web. It is also possible for the wearable device company to sell patient information to marketers without the individual’s consent. Fortunately, laws such as the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) and General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) help protect patient data and companies that collect customer information must be mindful of this. 

Also, there are concerns about the accuracy of the vital signs being monitored. Despite being designed with good intentions, not all wearables can provide accurate patient data. In Australia, a test was conducted on a cardiologist, Richard Alcock, to determine the patient’s VO2 max which is the maximum oxygen rate a person can achieve during physical exertion. During a fifteen-minute non-stop cycling session, he attained 62.5 ml/kg/min. When he checked his smartwatch, he was surprised that the device read 56 ml/kg/min, around 10% lower than what he recorded. The issue was that the smartwatch did not track his oxygen output but only estimated it using only two parameters — heart rate and speed. 

This revelation clearly challenges the bold statement made by smartwatch and fitness tracker makers that their products can track one’s vital signs perfectly all the time.  As seen in the case of the Australian cardiologist, mistakes can occur even in medical wearables. So, it begs several pressing questions. Can patients with serious medical conditions rely on smartwatches for remote health monitoring despite the possibility of false readings? Or should they wholly depend on physical appointments? Do athletes also need to reconsider their reliance on fitness trackers, especially if there are concerns about the data being correct? 

With all these said, wearable devices offer immense value to users. Using the data obtained from the monitoring, users can get an idea of their health and know whether they need to make changes to their lifestyle and diet. Of course, concerns about data privacy and the accuracy of the data are not to be underplayed. So one must carefully weigh the pros and cons of getting one. As wearable manufacturers keep working on future versions, it is expected that the technology used to develop them should make these gadgets more likely to render precise information. 

Michael Akuchie is a tech journalist with four years of experience covering cybersecurity, AI, automotive trends, and startups. He reads human-angle stories in his spare time. He’s on X (fka Twitter) as @Michael_Akuchie & michael_akuchie on Instagram.

Cover Photo: Verywell Health

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