In 2018, a woman sent a letter to Apple, thanking them for saving her life. In the letter, she detailed how a few weeks after having a baby she had received an alert from her Apple Watch indicating that her heart rate was abnormally high. Concerned, she visited the hospital, where she was diagnosed with thyroid storm, a condition that elevates heart rate and body temperature to dangerous levels and, if left untreated, can be fatal. Thanks to her Apple Watch, this woman is alive & healthy.
Another Apple customer, Scott Killian, who was given a clean bill of health a few months previously, was woken up at 1 am by his Apple Watch alerting him that his heart rate was very high. During his subsequent visit to the emergency services, Scott was broken the news that he had suffered a heart attack and had four blocked arteries. He would likely have died if he hadn’t had the alert.
Over the last few weeks, we've been hearing rumours of new features in wearable technology such as oxygenation levels, stress levels and blood pressure.
University of Michigan researchers have recently created a wearable device that can continuously collect and examine circulating tumour cells (CTCs) in the blood. These cancer cells are typically obtained via blood samples to provide a biomarker for treatment, but this wrist-worn prototype could potentially screen patients’ blood for a few hours to obtain only the CTCs of interest.
What impact will this have?
The ability to constantly monitor someone's health can dramatically help in early detection of infection and diseases and potentially help saves millions of lives.
Capturing these signs while sitting on a hospital bed is different from capturing them while we’re going about our daily life. The continuous, mobile monitoring can be much more insightful. This is potentially a new type of medicine - Gadi Amit, founder of NewDealDesign, which created the Fitbit
What happens when it goes wrong?
I recently listened to 'The Drop Out' podcast (I recommend it!) on the story of Elizabeth Holmes and her company Theranos. Holmes claimed to have revolutionized blood testing for disease using methods that could take only incredibly small volumes of blood. She also claimed these tests could be performed very rapidly using small, automated devices that the company had developed. This wasn't the case. There are 100s of examples online from patients that received an incorrect diagnosis from Theranos blood samples including one woman who was told her cancer had returned. A devastating message to hear. Thankfully, further tests by her doctor confirmed it in fact hadn't and the Theranos test was wrong.
How far will it go?
Back in 2017, a small team at the agency came up with the concept 'IAMU'. IAMU is a Virtual Personal Assistant that links together with your health data, finances, social circles - you name it.
With the ubiquity of data and our propensity to share it, a new type of AI can create a complete picture of us, that knows us better than we know ourselves. It can predict out buying habits, what we should eat, the optimum level of exercise to remain healthy, our friends that make us feel good, how we can save time on travel and the best possible time to think about starting a family. Check her out in action here.