Almost every other smartwatch claims to track the health and fitness of the users. This claim and blatant advertising are the reason why everyone wears a smartwatch or is convinced to buy one. Premium tier smartwatches now come with ECG and SpO2 monitoring which raises the concern about their accuracy. Unlike medical grade equipment that measures only one vital, smartwatches can measure heart rate, blood oxygen, and even ECG. Does the question persist Will your Doctor ever Trust Signals from a Smartwatch?
Can your Smartwatch clue you into a Heart Issue?
After investing in a swanky fitness tracker or a smartwatch, you may find it hard to understand that the products aren’t still competent enough to match a piece of medical-grade equipment. According to experienced cardiologists across the globe, the smartwatch manufacturers have a lot to improve to come close to the accuracy and reliability of a smartwatch-produced medical report. Take the example of a trending feature in apple watch, the ECG measuring capability. It allows the user to measure their heart rate and generate a graph as the ECG machine does.
The ECG features do present accurate results but are only a single-lead test that is highly inconclusive of the patient’s condition. The single lead here means that the watch can measure the heart rate in only one area of the human body. However, the medical-grade ECG machine in hospitals uses a twelve-lead testing procedure. This twelve lead testing places twelve electrodes on the human body at predetermined points. So, the ECG readings printed on the graph provide a complete view of what’s happening in the body, if the heart rate is consistent throughout the body or not.
Medical grade ECG done in hospitals is also not a complete test to detect an anomaly in the heart. It is just the beginning of the testing procedure wherein if the doctor finds any problematic area, they recommend further tests. So, ECG alone isn’t a parameter to detect heart problems. Doctors find it very problematic as the rise in such claims prevents patients from visiting hospitals on time and beginning self-diagnosis.
The problem with smartwatches is that they provide an illusion of control over health and fitness. Heart rate, ECG, SpO2 are all different parameters that are used by doctors to adjudge a patient’s condition. But it is not the only parameter to judge whether someone needs medical assistance or not. The patient’s medical history, current health status, and problems are all factored in before suggesting further tests.
Doctors believe that these smartwatch metrics are not a clear indication of health and fitness levels. Users who own such trackers may begin self-diagnosis and even alter their lifestyle to keep the numbers in check. This habit can create or aggravate a problem which can even turn into a life-threatening incident.
Smartwatch as Medical Alert
Furthermore, frequent monitoring can result in commotion and hysteria, both of which burden the healthcare system for no reason. If every single smartwatch user begins visiting hospitals for even a slight change in SpO2, heart rate, the healthcare system will not be able to manage the existing and incoming patients. Thus, self-diagnosis and panic can break the normal functioning of the health care sector.
One more thing is the practical use case of these devices. Smartwatches aren’t economical and have a steep learning curve to them. Their target audience is the youth who are already-fit and healthy and do not need to check their heart rate every few minutes. The actual target audience is the senior citizen who needs precise monitoring after they have been diagnosed with a medical condition.
Accuracy of a Smartwatch
Senior citizens may find it hard to understand the results produced by a smartwatch. Plus, they aren’t cheap and the ones that are available for low budget do not even come close to the accuracy of a premium smartwatch. These are a few conditions that deter doctors from relying on the statistics produced by a smartwatch. The data is incomplete and the doctors have to do the complete checkups again before arriving at a conclusion for the patient.
What should you do?
If you own a fitness tracker and have a healthy lifestyle with adequate time for physical activity, you do not need to check your vitals every hour. The human body is a lot complex and its health and wellness cannot be calculated with a few factors. Even the thrill of excitement can make the heart pump higher but that doesn’t mean you have an elevated heart rate. Most cases of arrhythmic conditions are not life-threatening but if you actually feel low and experience a few symptoms you should visit the hospital first.
Also, investing in an extremely expensive smartwatch purely for monitoring health vitals is not a wise approach. If you have patients at home, invest in a medical-grade and certified device to monitor the patient. You can even consult your doctor about the brand or the category of the product that’s available and reliable enough for home usage.
The Best Practice to Monitor your Heart Rate with a Smartwatch
The best practice is to use your smartwatch as a guiding device and monitor your vitals over a long period of time. Avoid fixating on an optimum heart rate, SpO2 level as it varies with each second. Secondly, understand that the data produced by a smartwatch is a combination of sensor data and data processing algorithms that make predictions accordingly.
These predictions aren’t a hundred percent true all the time and can often raise unnecessary alarms. AI and ML powers apps are slowly becoming powerful but they are far from outweighing the results and diagnosis of a certified and experienced medical professional. They will get better with time and more data but for now, it’s best to take the advice of your medical practitioner above any fitness tracker.
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