Indeed. And adding regular blood pressure and glucose readings to the mix has the potential to take those big-picture views to the next level, affording us a better understanding for how seemingly unrelated activities correlate. Like, for example, how staying up late on Saturday night or drinking an extra cup of coffee on Sunday afternoon can impact your ability to cope with an unexpectedly stressful work assignment on Monday morning. It may even help you choose the best time to fly across time zones to make a big presentation.
All of this without ever sharing a single reading.
Of course, Apple Watches, Fitbits, Oura rings and other wearables won’t look the other way if they see that your blood pressure or blood sugar is rising unexpectedly. In those instances, you’ll most likely get an alert to record an old-school cuff or finger-prick reading, and take it to your doctor.
“I think this idea of relative change – trend lines over headlines – is very helpful,” said Harpreet Singh Rai, CEO of Oura. “They can act as early warning lights for your body, just like the check engine in your car.”
Check engine light
Wearables makers are already starting to adopt this emerging “check engine” model. One of the best examples is Apple Watch’s atrial defibrillation-detection algorithm, which debuted three years ago on the Apple Watch 4. When the Apple Watch detects possible heartbeat irregularities, it doesn’t tell you that you might have a-fib. Rather, it urges you to take a reading on its built-in, FDA-approved ECG and show it to your doctor.
Unlike with ECG, you won’t see many wearables makers building cuffs and glucometers into smartwatches. But as the role of consumer-class devices in healthcare comes into focus, this emerging approach is gaining acceptance because it takes advantage of personal wellness devices’ always-there advantages without crossing any regulatory lines.
Wearables will derive blood pressure – and, someday, glucose – by monitoring elements of blood flow using LEDs, sensors and AI. So they don’t actually take measurements like cuffs and glucometers. For the moment, at least, those methods aren’t approved by the FDA to deliver medical-grade measurements.
Some insiders expect the FDA to approve consumer-grade wearables for blood pressure readings as early as 2023. But few believe wearables will ever be able to produce glucose estimates with the precision that healthcare providers – and the FDA – require.