Fitness Trackers Can Be Life Savers

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Written By Mahmoud Sarvari

Electronic health activity monitors are turning into indispensable tools for emergency room doctors.

Designed to track physical activity and heart rates, Fitbit wristbands are saving lives in an unforeseen way for some patients.

One 42-year-old man was rushed to a US hospital suffering from a seizure and doctors could see just when his heart rate spiked from looking at his fitness tracker app.

The data allowed doctors to see how long he had been in a critical condition, which was vital in his treatment as they only had a narrow window for a procedure that would bring his heart back on track.

Now Fitbit is looking at ways their fitness trackers can be enhanced to diagnose when a wearer is at risk of health problems by identifying abnormal heart rates and behaviour.

Monitor heart rate

The research is looking at a condition called atrial fibrillation that is an irregular beat that can be a precursor to a stroke that signals something is wrong in the body long before other symptoms arise.

 “When we start to look at our heart rate monitor, data that we get from all of these users, we began to see irregularities in heart rhythms,” said Fitbit research director Subramaniam Venkatraman.

“From our knowledge of physiology, this suggests an indicator of atrial fibrillation.”

Fitbit has also found that some heart conditions do not exhibit symptoms and are only determined by a physical examination.

To tackle the problem, Fitbit is looking at a symptom checker built into the monitor’s smartphone app or improving the heart rate monitor, but this is presenting another set of problems.

Improving data quality

The checker works by shining a light through the wrist, but the data quality from this method is not good enough to spot abnormalities unless the wearer is still or asleep.

The company is working on improving the quality of data and the early results look promising, said Venkatraman.

Another medical problem Fitbit is looking at is sleep apnoea, a disorder that disrupts breathing while in bed.

Fitbit is likely to implement these medical updates within a year – and probably by software updates that work with current hardware.

“That is certainly something we’re thinking about,” said Venkatraman “We’re still evaluating what the best path is to bring this technology to market.”