The doctor takes on wearables – what role do they play in health care?

Wearable devices are becoming increasingly popular among consumers, with about One in five Australians One athlete on their wrist. The phenomenal success of these tools indicates that more people are interested in managing their health and well-being, and monitoring activity levels and other health metrics.

These days, wearables can collect many measurements, from a basic step count to detailed measurements such as oxygen saturation, energy expenditure, blood pressure, and sleep patterns.

But how accurate are these measurements? What is their role in health care?

Wearable devices – a reliable source of health data?

a recent study Check the accuracy of the Apple Watch 6, Polar Vantage V, and Fitbit Sense on 60 healthy young adults for heart rate and energy expenditure during activities such as sitting, walking, running, resistance training and cycling.

It found that the Apple Watch 6 had the highest accuracy of heart rate monitoring across all activities, while the Polar Vantage V and Fitbit Sense had varying degrees of accuracy from high to poor. Similar results have been seen before Fuller, Dr.; et al. (2020) and Shcherbina A. et al. (2017).

To measure your heart rate, trackers are usually equipped with light sensors such as a PPG sensorwhich measures beats per minute by detecting blood flow — between beats, the volume of blood in your wrist decreases, reflecting more light back into the sensor.

Although heart rate tracking technology has advanced, it has some recognized drawbacks.

For example, the light may hit the sensor when you move your wrist, reducing the accuracy of the reading. Moreover, melanin, which gives color to hair, skin, and eyes, causes a discrepancy in the absorption of visible light. This means less light reaches the blood vessels of people with darker skin, which weakens the signal and makes it error-prone.

In addition to skin color, things like tattoos and the fit of the device around the wrist can also interfere with the accuracy of heart rate monitoring by wearables.

Another study It found that the wearables are accurate at rest, but the error rate increases with movement, compared to traditional electrocardiogram (ECG) assessments.

So, if wearables are accurate at rest, does that mean they accurately track sleep?

A fitness tracker can be an excellent way to get insight into a healthy person’s sleep routine. While it is reasonably accurate in assessing how long one spends in bed, the accuracy in determining the different stages of sleep one experiences is not as high as an overnight sleep study. Therefore, if one is tired, which is confirmed as a lack of sleep, they should be treated by getting more sleep. However, if one is fatigued and the sleep data provided by the wearable device does not lead to the appropriate solution, a medical practitioner should always be consulted to determine other causes of fatigue.

Although increased awareness about sleep duration and quality can have a positive impact on overall health, few studies have investigated the accuracy of sleep tracking. Consumers should be aware that wearables are not designed to indicate inconsistencies that could diagnose sleep disorders or other health issues.

Furthermore, some wearables promise to track VO2 max, which is a measure of the maximum amount of oxygen used by the body during exercise. according to Study 2022However, the VO2 max calculated by wearable devices can have varying degrees of accuracy and is likely not to be accurate enough for use in the sports or healthcare industries compared to testing VO2 max in the laboratory by qualified practitioners.

Given the inconclusive data, it is perhaps best to use wearables as motivational tools to help set and track personal health goals, and to encourage open communication between patients and health care providers.

The value of fitness trackers

Change begins with awareness. Wearable devices have revolutionized consumer health by giving people access to their health data in a simplified way. This information can serve as a catalyst for improvements in overall health and well-being, and shift people’s mindset and behavior toward achieving health goals.

They can also help detect potential health problems early, such as an irregular heartbeat or high blood pressure, but in such cases, a healthcare professional should always be consulted.

Wearables can be a powerful tool to get people moving, but it is worth remembering that they are just one part of the solution to addressing sedentary lifestyles and should not be relied on solely.

Although digital technology may not be the complete answer to everyone’s health, there is a huge opportunity to gain data about your health that may be useful.

At the end of the day, the real key to maintaining a healthy lifestyle is a comprehensive approach that prioritizes physical and mental health through good sleep, diet and exercise regimes, as well as regular check-ups with your doctor or others. A health care provider.


Dr. John Cummins provides medical technical guidance for life underwriting, product development and claims services in his capacity as Head of Marketing for Australian life insurance company PPS Mutual. He is also the CEO and Medical Director of The Executive Medicine Clinic of a Sydney-based medical practice.

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