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Doctors’ Notes: Wearable technologies are helpful, but not all are quite there yet

Doctors’ Notes: Wearable technologies are helpful, but not all are quite there yet

Devices are mostly useful for motivation and offering information that may prompt you to get yourself checked out by a doctor — but don’t jump to conclusions

By Dr. Atul Verma University of Toronto

In recent years I’ve been impressed by the way Fitbits and other “wearable” health monitors help patients manage their heart conditions. The technology of these over-the-counter devices still isn’t as sophisticated as what you would get from your doctor, but I’ve seen them motivate patients to take better care of their hearts.

There’s a huge variety of devices on the market now. There are even tiny scanners you can stick on the back of your cellphone that will give you a near-medical grade ECG just by putting your thumbs on them. But at this point, I still think the most important function of wearable technology is the most basic — to show you how many steps you’ve taken in a day and what your average heart rate is.

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Many people seem to think they exercise more than they actually do. Data from wearables can motivate patients to move more, which improves their heart health. Right now, wearables typically monitor activity and give a rough guide of heart rate when you’re exercising. If someone has a rhythm problem where their heart unexpectedly goes too slow or fast, data from these devices may be helpful. For example, if it records their heart rate suddenly jumping up, and the patient recalls they were just sitting on the couch, that’s quite helpful information.

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