The World of Wearables
Since the release of the first iPhone over a decade ago, the pace of innovation has been dizzying. Smartphones and the mobile apps we download have disrupted countless industries. Publishing, music, television and film, photography, navigation, banking, and transportation have been transformed. Even as we try to keep up with these advances, the next wave of technology is here- and we're wearing it.
As more consumers capture health information with wearables, questions arise.
- How can information from wearables help me better understand and manage my health?
- Can sharing this information help my doctor or nurse better understand my health and manage my care?
- Is my personal health information secure and protected?
Participating in your own health
Wearable technology helps us understand our health in three ways
- By tracking our own daily activity
- By sharing daily activity with friends, peers, and family
- By sharing personal health information with a clinician (doctor, nurse, physician assistant, physical or occupational therapist, or other professional providing medical care), coach or trainer
Potential benefits of wearables in chronic disease include:
- Promotion of healthy behaviors to improve the course of the disease
- A sense of empowerment to take control of one’s disease
- Increased feelings of safety and confidence, and reduced fear and stress
- Detection of life-threatening conditions, or of underlying disease when there are no signs or symptoms
- Collection of valuable biometric data to share with a clinician, coach or trainer
- Elimination of office visits when clinicians have remote access to data
- Actionable alerts that can serve as medication reminders, or notify EMS in the case of a life-threatening medical event
Widespread use of these technologies is not without its challenges. For some people, access to this technology is not a given. Some wearables can be expensive, and almost all rely on access to smart phones and/or internet connectivity.
Are you reading the fine print?
For consumers, reading the fine print is a crucial step when it comes to protecting personal health information.
What should you look for?
- Is the company open and transparent about the data they will collect, and how it will be used and/or shared?
- Do they ensure you have access and control over your data?
- Do they detail the security and safeguards in place to protect your data?
Pros and Cons of Wearable Tech
- Immediate access to real-time health data
- Motivation and encouragement, particularly when engaging with social communities
- Accountability through tracking and monitoring progress
- Potential for early detection of acute and chronic conditions
- Enhanced patient-clinical relationship
- Improved clinical decision-making
- Varying data accuracy and potential for false readings
- Unproven health benefits
- Limited accessibility due to costs or lack of internet access
- Data overload for you and your doctor
- Not yet able to integrate with health records
- Data security and privacy concerns
Simple advice when considering buying wearable technology:
- Take control of your health
- Wearables provide real-time information for monitoring, motivating, and managing your health
- Focus on prevention
- Wearables can support activities for healthy living.
- Know your data
- The ability to track and monitor your health over time with wearables can help you identify the normal versus abnormal.
- Set goals
- Identify 1-2 goals that are realistic and fit your personal lifestyle.
- Keep it simple
- Choose the technology and apps that support your goals.
FAQs - Wearable Tech and Heart Health
Many wearable devices can detect and record heart rate for you and help spot changes over time. Your heart rate can go up or down for a variety of reasons. For example, if you have a cold or fever, you may see an increase in your heart rate. Abrupt changes in heart rate, or an irregular rhythm notification seen in some smartwatches, may signify an abnormal heart rhythm. You should contact your clinician if you notice any changes that concern you.
When using a wearable to track heart rhythm or blood pressure, it is important to understand what’s normal for you and an average adult. Talk to your clinician about what is normal for you. If you experience symptoms such as a rapid heart rate, or the feeling that your chest is pounding, fluttering or flopping, your clinician may use a Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved device to detect your heart rhythm via an ECG. An ECG is a graph of the electrical activity of your heart. The heart rate and the heart rhythm can be determined from the ECG.
Most wearables come with a mobile app that collects and tracks data for you. These apps will help you understand what the data means and track it for you over time. If you notice significant changes over time or repeating events, you may have a health problem. The collection of data over time will help your clinician understand what’s going on and help him/her determine the next best course of action, if any.
It is important, even in healthy individuals, to have regular check-ups with your doctor or other clinician. If you’re not feeling well or have symptoms such as rapid heart rate, dizziness, or your heart feels like it’s fluttering or flopping, you should talk to your clinician. If you get a notification, like “possible atrial fibrillation” from your device or that something is not normal (high or low heart rate, high or low blood pressure), continue to monitor and talk to your clinician. If you get a notification from your device and you’re on medication, do not start, stop, or make any changes to your medications without speaking to your clinician first.
It is important to remember that most people do not need to have continuous activity or heart rate monitoring for clinical reasons. Most wearables are primarily suited for fitness and wellness. Second, wearables are not a substitute for medical devices prescribed by a clinician. For example, your doctor might give you a 24-hour blood pressure monitor or continuous electrocardiogram (ECG) monitor to wear for several days. These devices are medically approved and will give him/her the information they need to manage your health.