It’s stating the obvious to say technology has forever changed the way we interact. From telegrams to emails to FaceTime, innovations in the communications sphere have consistently strived to simplify and streamline the process of keeping in touch and up-to-date.
Whilst I am guilty of spending many an idle moment marvelling at this rapid and radical progress, for me it pales into insignificance compared with the great strides made within the realms of healthcare.
The Apple Watch, as you’re most likely aware, is a pricey bit of wearable tech. The “old” Series 3 starts from £279 with prices rising to £399 and upwards for the latest Series 4 model. Depending on your level of fashion consciousness, you could feasibly spend the best part of £1.5k kitting out your wrist. But the appeal isn’t all about looking good…
In March 2019, tech-giant Apple announced the results of their Apple Heart Study; involving 400,000 participants from across the US, the study was conducted by Stanford Medicine to evaluate the Apple Watch’s irregular rhythm notifications.
The Apple Watch monitors the heart rhythm of the wearer in the background, and sends a notification if an irregular beat appears to be suggestive of atrial fibrillation, or AFib. If an irregular heart rhythm was identified within participants of the study, they received a notification on their Apple Watch and iPhone, a telehealth consultation with a doctor and an electrocardiogram (ECG) patch for additional monitoring.
The key findings of the study were:
Overall, only 0.5 percent of participants received irregular pulse notifications, an important finding given concerns about potential over-notification.
Comparisons between irregular pulse-detection on Apple Watch and simultaneous electrocardiography patch recordings showed the pulse detection algorithm (indicating a positive tachogram reading) has a 71 percent positive predictive value. Eighty-four percent of the time, participants who received irregular pulse notifications were found to be in atrial fibrillation at the time of the notification.
One-third (34 percent) of the participants who received irregular pulse notifications and followed up by using an ECG patch over a week later were found to have atrial fibrillation. Since atrial fibrillation is an intermittent condition, it’s not surprising for it to go undetected in subsequent ECG patch monitoring.
Fifty-seven percent of those who received irregular pulse notifications sought medical attention.
The notion of remote monitoring is not a new one. Indeed, the Holter monitor – a portable ambulatory electrocardiography device for cardiac monitoring, developed by experimental physicists Norman Holter and Bill Glasscock – was released for commercial production way back in 1962.
However, Holter monitors traditionally use between three and eight electrodes in addition to the – usually rather chunky - recorder that logs changes in the heart’s electrical activity. Clearly not the most discreet or stylish device on the market today, but it could save your life.
How Apple have broken the mould in a conventionally “practical” arena, is through their development of a device that users actually WANT to wear. Not only does the Apple Watch monitor your heart rate, it provides a plethora of genuinely useful functions that make it hard to leave the home without. A measurement taker, motivator and music maker, all in one!
For the general health-conscious or tech-obsessed user, the Apple Watch ticks a lot of boxes. But what if your health condition, ailment or illness is more niche? What if your experience of suffering is different to others? How has the health industry stepped up to support those users in a personalised and meaningful way?
People with Type 1 Diabetes can now buy a Bluetooth-enabled blood glucose meter – the One Drop Chrome – which will transmit readings directly to their Apple Watch. The latest Series 4 Apple Watches are also able to detect if the wearer falls over and can send a message to Siri asking for help - a reassuring safeguard for those who suffer with hypoglycaemia.
With the advent of apps like MyFitnessPal, it’s now easier than ever to track and measure eating habits and activity levels – a vital tool in the fight to tackle obesity. There are countless stories of people who credit their watches with helping to turn their lives around with an ever-present reminder on their wrist motivating them to take those extra steps and give the burger and fries a miss.
It’s not just in the realm of physical health that benefits are being unlocked. Hugely popular apps like Headspace, Calm and the Apple Watch’s Breathe app help people to tackle stress and anxiety through guided meditations and breathing exercises.
Wearable tech is also opening new avenues for research. A large study into major depressive disorder is using a bespoke Apple Watch app to gain a better understanding into the experience of patients, with the hope that it will ultimately help improve clinical decision making. Similar studies are helping to improve understanding and care for people with conditions like Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
A Research 2 Guidance report on Health Apps from November 2017 highlighted the following technologies as having the most (perceived) disruptive potential over the next 5 years:
Internet of Things
It’s clear that now, in 2019, these technologies are still far from exhausted avenues for experimentation and expansion.
The report introduction reads:
In the traditional healthcare industry, 10-years is merely the time span for a product development cycle. In the digital arena, 10-years in close to prehistoric.
I can’t wait to see where we are in another decade’s time. The scope for future innovation warrants all the superlatives you can think of – mind-blowing, awe-inspiring, ground-breaking, game-changing… And that, my friends, is why I love my job!