Your Smartwatch Knows You’re Sick Before You Do

(CN) – Smartwatches and fitness biosensor devices can detect illness and health issues before the person wearing them experiences noticeable symptoms, offering a crucial tool in personalized care and preventative medicine.

Stanford University researchers published findings Thursday on the potential uses for the myriad of measurements these devices collect. The readings may help medical professionals determine effective treatments, offer patients individualized dietary advice, and foster better care in general.

“We want to tell when people are healthy and also catch illnesses at their earliest stages,” said senior author Michael Snyder, chair of genetics at Sanford University.

Besides leading the research, Snyder was also one of the study’s subjects, after a software program his team created to analyze data from a smartwatch called ‘Change of Heart’ found that he had contracted Lyme disease.

“I had elevated heart rate and decreased oxygen at the start of my vacation and knew something was not quite right,” Snyder said. He also ran a low-grade fever for several days, and a doctor later confirmed the illness.

The scope of illness and health conditions that personal biosensor measurements can detect is still unknown, and translating such data to research could pose challenges as patients may want to protect the privacy of their physiologic data.

“The information collected could aid your physician, although we can expect some initial challenges in how to integrate the data into clinical practice,” Snyder said.

The team also found other interesting facts while tracking their subjects’ vital through the devices. While it’s long been known that oxygen levels in our blood decreases in an airplane, the tracking showed the decrease happens much longer than thought – for most of the duration of a flight.

“Many of us had the experience of feeling tired on airplane flights,” Snyder said. “Sometimes people may attribute this to staying up late, a hectic work schedule, or the stress of travel. However, it is also likely that cabin pressure and reduced oxygen also are contributors.”

Snyder said that while physicians and third-party payers will demand research into how this comprehensive longitudinal personal data should be used in patient care, the eventual outcome of collecting personal biosensor measurements will be highly beneficial to the field of medicine.

“In the long-term I am very optimistic that personal biosensors will help us maintain healthier lives,” he said.

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