Medical potential of wearable devices must not be belittled

November 12, 2018 10:36
A smart watch that measures the wearer’s heartbeat throughout the day can be of great value. Photo: AFP

Apple Watch's ECG app monitors your heart and alerts you when there are irregularities. The technology has already been approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). I think this function is very useful, especially for the elderly.

I remember several doctors and academics commenting in a forum a year ago that data collected by wearables can’t be used for diagnosis, and that by no means can they replace medical equipment and the expert opinions and professional judgment of doctors and nurses.

I don’t quite agree with such views. I believe that whether data can be used for medical reference should be determined by the quality of such data, not the devices that collect the data.

I once accompanied my mother-in-law to the hospital for a check-up. The doctor had to measure her blood pressure three times to get an accurate reading because she was too tired and nervous.

The case shows that data accuracy is affected by many factors.

Now here's a smart watch that measures the wearer’s heartbeat for, say, over 50 times throughout the day. This kind of data can be of great value.

If the wearer’s heartbeat averages 80 and suddenly jumps to 110, then we can say something could be wrong and action is needed.

There are always long queues in public hospitals and a doctor’s time is limited.

In Hong Kong, there are already 1.3 million people who are above 60, and another one million are going to retire in the coming decade.

The aging population would put a great burden on the government. Now it the technology for checking basic parameters like heartbeat, blood pressure and blood sugar becomes more accessible and affordable, people would be able to know their body condition better and deal with health issues in a more proactive way.

That in turn would reduce the demand for public medical services.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Nov 9

Translation by Julie Zhu

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Hong Kong Information Technology Federation Chairman