The Questions Arise While Wearable Technology Is Changing How We Track Our Medical Condition

Wearables are revolutionizing the field of medicine by detecting conditions such as heart arrhythmias.
Marcia Wendorf
Fitness trackerCreate Health

In 1904, the Brazilian aviation pioneer Alberto Santos-Dumont complained to his friend jeweler Louis Cartier, that he found it difficult to check his pocket watch while piloting a plane. Cartier created the wristwatch, which was the world's first "wearable."

In 2009, U.S. company Fitbit released its first activity tracker. Trackers can be synced to devices such as smartphones, via Bluetooth or to a Bluetooth-equipped computer running Windows or MacOS. By 2014, wearable technology was a popular topic at that year's Consumer Electronics Show (CES) trade show, and numerous wearable products were showcased. These included smartwatches, activity trackers, smart jewelry, head-mounted optical displays, and earbuds.


That same year, a report by PriceWaterhouseCoopers entitled "Wearable Future Report," showed that one in five Americans owned a wearable device.

Customers use the devices to log their daily food intake, activities, and weight. They also set daily and weekly goals for themselves, such as the number of steps to be taken, and the number of calories to be consumed and burned.

Besides activity trackers, Fitbit has a website and mobile apps for iOS, Android and Windows 10 Mobile. There is a community page where users can challenge themselves and compete against other users.

In October 2018, The Fitbit Charge 3 was introduced, and it was the first device to include an oxygen saturation (SPO2) sensor. However, that sensor is non-functional, and Fitbit has yet to give a timeline for the feature to be enabled.

How Useful Are These Devices?

A 2016 study entitled, "Effect of Wearable Technology Combined with a Lifestyle Intervention on Long-Term Weight Loss: the IDEA Randomized Clinical Trial" showed that the use of wearables resulted in less rather than more weight loss after two years of use when compared to usual weight loss interventions. The study showed that the devices failed to alter how much people exercised or the amount they ate.


Another area of concern for Fitbit devices has been privacy. To use the devices, a user has to create an account, and agree to Fitbit's data collection, transfer and privacy rules.

In June 2011, it was noted that the website's default activity-sharing settings were set for public viewing, and that some users were including details about their sex lives in their daily exercise logs. Fitbit responded to the criticism by making all such data private by default.

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An unusual use for Fitbit Trackers has been in the solving of crimes. When Richard Dabate told police his wife Connie had been murdered by an intruder, Connie's Fitbit Tracker showed that she was exercising at a gym at the time of the alleged attack, and Richard was arrested.

In another case, Karen Navarra's Fitbit showed her heart stopping while she was being visited by her stepfather, Anthony Aiello. Aiello was arrested.

Listen to Your Heart

Besides Fitbit, other wearable devices include the Apple Watch, which came out in April 2015, and the Samsung Galaxy Gear which first appeared in September 2013.


The latest generation of Apple Watch includes AFib (Atrial fibrillation) detection. Atrial fibrillation is a heart arrhythmia that affects about 1% of the population worldwide. It’s mostly detected in adults over the age of 60, and in those with high blood pressure and diabetes. Atrial fibrillation is the leading cause of stroke, with sufferers being five times more likely to have a stroke than those without it.

The KardiaMobile and KardiaBand wearable devices incorporate the Apple watch’s heart rate sensor. If the sensor detects an unusual heartbeat, the devices alert the user to place their fingers on a small electrocardiogram (ECG) pad on the watch band.

The devices then visually display the user’s heartbeat, and announce whether the heartbeat is normal or the user is experiencing atrial fibrillation.

In the future, wearables will be used to collect biometric data, such as heart rate (ECG and HRV), brainwave (EEG), and muscle bio-signals (EMG). They will also be used to monitor the elderly. Being able to review data transmitted from a wearable device means that a patient doesn't have to be transported to a medical facility, and this has the potential of saving millions of dollars a year.

A Wearable on the Inside

Abilify is a treatment for schizophrenia, bipolar I disorder, and major depressive disorder (MDD). Abilify Mycite is a pill that includes an Ingestible Event Marker (IEM), a sensor inside of the tablet. Once the pill is swallowed, it transmits a message to a wearable patch, which then transmits information to a mobile application.

This was designed to ensure that patients take their anti-psychotic medication, and it was approved for use by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 2017.

Disclaimers on the Ability website include, "It is not known if Abilify Mycite can improve how well you take your aripiprazole (patient compliance) or for changing your dose of aripiprazole. Abilify Mycite is not for use as real-time or emergency monitoring.

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