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ECG On Your Smart-Watch? Can Wearable Health Devices Replace White Coats’

The question continues to be asked whether technology can totally replace the human sense in assessment of these vitals

As per some reports, measurements coming from one's body are as strong as those coming from these devices. However, both won't be of any advantage to an average man who lacks a medical context to interpret these results

Written by Kashish Sharma |Updated : September 30, 2022 11:22 AM IST

We have suddenly become concerned about our health metric, haven't we? Keeping a track of our basic parameters like blood pressure and oxygen saturation have become all the more relevant during the pandemic years. Another changing trend to be seen is the desire to measure these vitals spontaneously and from home. Hence, more and more people are investing in smart watches and other could-be-worn devices to monitor their cardiac health. Though the remarkable advances in technology have made the measurement of these parameters fairly easy but the question remains how good they are in predicting impending health conditions like a heart attack. The question continues to be asked whether technology can totally replace the human sense in assessment of these vitals.

It might not be an exaggeration to say that smart watch makers have brought our health card right close to our wrist. With a band across our wrist, we can track our heart rate 24/7, measure calories burnt, steps taken during the day and maintain sleep metrics. Many smart watches have gone a little further by not limiting themselves to measurement alone, they have made it possible to track your menstrual cycle, set reminders to move frequently and drink water in regular intervals. Interestingly, some can even keep a track of your vitals when you are fast asleep at night. Conversations are being held on how accurately such devices can take an electrocardiogram (ECG) and detect conditions like Atrial fibrillation, well in advance. It might be a good idea to look at what the world and experts think about the accuracy and usefulness of these virtual game changers.

Measurements need a medical context

With the addition of features like measuring oxygen saturation or taking an ECG on your smart-watches, questions are being raised on how useful is this information without a medical context. As per experts, measurements have to be interpreted in a certain light and this requires an established background of health conditions affecting the individual. While some experts say that measuring these parameters during the entire course of day and under different conditions can give valuable insights, others say that the sensors still have limitations, enough to create confusion. As per some reports, measurements coming from one's body are as strong as those coming from these devices. However, both won't be of any advantage to an average man who lacks a medical context to interpret these results.

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Human sense is inevitable

Some experts have explained that the conventionally used pulse oximeter measures heart rate and oxygen using semiconductors. Different amounts of light bounce back depending on how much blood is flowing. By measuring changes in the reflected light, the device can track how fast your heart is beating. Experts say that any hindrance in the reflection process will cause the monitor to show false readings, a scene very common in hospitals where the technicians or doctors have to adjust the monitor accordingly.

Can give a heads up

As per some health experts, these health monitoring devices could tell people if they are sick, which is the first step to any diagnosis. This can follow getting a confirmation from a doctor's office. Also, as per reports, measuring these parameters from your smart phone is learning what is considered normal for your body.

Our Expert has a say

To understand the accuracy and relevance of these wear-able health-monitoring devices in assessing cardiac health, spoke to Dr Rajnish Sardana, a Senior Consultant in Electrophysiology, Fortis Hospital (Vasant Kunj, Delhi). The health expert talked us through the benefits and risks associated with the changing trend of vitals' assessment through these devices.

Reasonably accurate but false positives can still confuse

Speaking on how effective are these devices in measuring the vital parameters, Dr Sardana said: "Good approved (FDA) Wearable health devices are effective, well validated and reasonably accurate. But the observations need to be vetted by the clinicians as there are significant false positives. They are helpful in measuring blood pressure, oxygen saturation, blood sugar, and others and should be used only on the advice of a physician."

Beware! Can become an obsession

Speaking on how monitoring parameters can become an obsession in some people and how in some people the act of measuring the values can cause anxiety, Dr Sardana said: "We are seeing increasing number of individuals with no pre-existing illnesses having anxiety as the devices report abnormal heart rates and oxygen levels. Some even start monitoring the parameters in the dead of night when they get up to respond to nature's call. This adds to the anxiety and further shoots up the pulse rate and blood pressure (falsely), aggravating the situation. Frequency at which the vitals are measured should be recommended by the physician and must be followed by people."

Should have a good periodic graph

Pulse oximeters though accurate are reported to have caused a lot of anxiety among some people with their false readings during the pandemic. Some reports show that taking the readings in wrong positions or a faulty base line of the instruments can also give false readings. In context to this, Dr Sardana said: "Pulse oximeters are the fairly accurate if the tracing underneath are showing good periodic graph. As the BP or oxygen saturations drop or if the extremities are cold the measurements become inaccurate. However any abnormal measurements must be report and physician consulted."

Meaningless figures without context

Similar to the argument raised above, Dr. Sardana believes that the readings provided by these devices can't do much help if not interpreted by a clinician. He said: "It is true that electrical wearable devices yield incredible potential. However, it is important that they are used on advice of a physician. We will find what we are looking for. Otherwise these are only figures. For example, an ECG alone doesn't diagnose a heart attack. It has to be correlated to patients' symptoms.

All said, a random monthly BP, heart rate, Blood sugar every few months may help pick up disease in healthy individual at an early stage."

Get yourself manually checked, once in a while

Dr Sardana acknowledges the use of technology in gauging these parameters but also advises to visit a healthcare facility once in a while. He said: "Despite new innovations like these electrical wearable devices, one should rely on conventional monitoring methods once in a while like going to a healthcare facility and getting their vitals checked as they give more accurate result and also provide the next step ahead."

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