Smartwatches are no longer just a technical gimmick. They now have some useful features that were previously only available to fitness trackers. On top of that, they become more precise when measuring from year to year. Researchers at the LMU Klinikum Munich have now recognized this benefit as part of a study. The smart watches should even be able to avoid hospital stays in the future.
Not too many years ago, smartwatches merely expanded the existing functions of smartphones. Little by little, the little helpers have been expanded to include independent features: They measure the heart rate, count the daily number of steps and determine the calories consumed. But sensors for measuring the oxygen saturation in the blood can now also be found on the clocks of some manufacturers. With the help of specially programmed apps, the clocks can be used for various purposes. Among other things, some studies deal with a corona warning app, which is supposed to warn the user of a possible infection via the pulse and oxygen saturation.
An interesting new venture is now coming from Munich: In a study, corona patients are equipped with a hybrid smartwatch for 30 days. This does not have all the functions of a conventional smartwatch and is therefore a mixture of mechanical watch and fitness tracker. The built-in sensors record simple ECGs, which cover the heart rate and oxygen saturation. If the pulse is too high and the saturation too low in infected people, this indicates a severe course of Covid-19. The hybrid smartwatch then advises you to go to the hospital. It is the other way around when the values are in the green: The disease can then be cured without hesitation in quarantine at home.
“Corona patients without a severe course tie up a lot of resources in the hospital, which are then lacking for patients who really need to be treated as inpatients,” explains study director Moritz Sinner from the LMU Klinikum Munich in a press release. Without medical help, it is almost impossible for those affected to decide whether or not hospitalization is necessary. Depending on the infection rate, the hospitals are already at the limit of their capacities, which makes the situation all the more difficult. Smartwatches could help here and reduce unnecessary hospital stays to a minimum. This would also relieve the staff.
To ensure that the study participants get the most reliable result possible, a measurement with the smartwatch is only necessary twice a day. All you have to do is place your right hand on the watch for a few seconds and check the data on the app. The user is notified by means of warning notices if a critical value is present. But this does not only affect the pulse and oxygen saturation. Cardiac arrhythmias and a high resting heart rate can also indicate a severe course of Covid-19. This data is therefore also recorded and analyzed. They are then also later available to the medical staff, which further simplifies treatment. But patients are also given a better feeling in the event of an infection: “Corona disease creates enormous uncertainty. Many patients are therefore happy that they can measure themselves. Knowing that the oxygen saturation has a high value of 98 percent, even though you are feeling very bad at the moment, helps to keep calm and to concentrate fully on the recovery, ”adds Sinner.
According to Sinner, there is no longer any doubt that smartwatches with certified sensors, as they are already available today, deliver reliable medical values. If you compare the oxygen measurement of watches with devices that are used in medicine, there are only minor differences in accuracy. Although the ECG of the smartwatch only provides one line instead of the 12 channels, as is usual with medical devices, parameters such as heart rate or cardiac arrhythmias can still be assessed well using this channel.
However, apps cannot always be the only support – sometimes all that remains is a conversation with the trusted doctor. With the support of smartphones, new challenges also arise: “At the same time, we have to find ways of dealing with these many findings, which patients are able to handle almost continuously and are often unable to interpret on their own,” says Sinner. For him it is conceivable that part of the diagnostics or the monitoring of health data will be carried out by the smartwatch manufacturers themselves for a fee. It is important, however, that politicians provide explicit requirements with regard to data protection, since the technology companies may otherwise proceed in a disadvantageous manner for the consumer.