#Trending: When wearables take on serious health problems

No room for error
Wearables get serious about health
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Our #Trending column has a brand new format this week, which we think allows us a little more freedom to talk about our topic of choice and why it's important.

There will come a day when wearable technology will shift from being just a health companion to significantly reducing our reliance on doctors. Human-provided health care will probably remain essential for a long time to come, but the more accurate wearable devices become at detecting problems, the less we'll need to rely on doctor appointments, wait times, and expensive medical bills.

For your day-to-day health and fitness, such as tracking steps, monitoring heart rate and checking how many hours of sleep you got, wearables are making big strides, and for many of them that's where it all stops. But what about devices detecting more serious health problems - why aren't there more of them? Are things changing? And how much weight should we place on health-tracking tech to tell us how well our bodies are working?

What's the latest?

#Trending: When wearables take on serious health problems

This week we've seen a few stories around wearables tackling more serious health issues. There's the Kardia Band, a medical-grade heart rate monitor that's built into an Apple Watch strap, designed to pick up palpitations, shortness of breath and other reasons for concern.

There's also the Bloomer Tech's smart bra for detecting heart disease, not the first of this type of wearable we've seen. Like the Kardia, the information gathered can be shared with your doctor. We also reported on a hearable, created by students at the Indian Institute of Science, which picks up distress signals from the brain.

Until now, detecting these types of problems would have required the help of a physician or other human expert, and while you should of course still seek immediate medical assistance if anything is detected, it's interesting to see more and more devices capable of picking up problems pre-emptively. These are all promising new ideas.

Why is it important?

#Trending: When wearables take on serious health problems

However, we've certainly seen many other wearables similarly taking on bigger health concerns. Earlier this year we reported on a device that uses sweat to analyse deeper physiological problems. We've also looked at wearables helping people with panic attacks, which is less about detecting and more about solving.

Yes, looking beyond step tracking means more legal issues, clinical trials and questions around data - which won't be very appealing to device manufacturers - but as a result you start building wearables that can make a significant difference to peoples' wellbeing, particularly those who most need it. It also takes us closer to the aforementioned era where doctors need to do less of the observation, and more of the analysis.

What are we concerned about?

#Trending: When wearables take on serious health problems

Of course, we shouldn't just assume these devices are going to be bulletproof when it comes to accuracy. This week we heard that a judge has refused to dismiss allegations against Fitbit regarding its heart rate accuracy, meaning a lawsuit will go ahead.

Now, no decision over the case has been made, but it certainly reminds us - as we've found with testing many wearables over time - that accuracy across devices is often variable. A few bpms of difference might not be an issue when you're keeping record of your running technique, but when it comes to serious health monitoring there's no room for error.

The upshot? We want to see more wearables that have a serious eye on health, especially those looking at particularly illnesses. Some people might get bored of tracking their steps, but when it comes to more pressing health matters, the tech could never be accused of being a gimmick.

What do you think?
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