Is Wearable Tech Any Better Than Feeling Your Own Pulse?

Is this the best thing since sliced bread?

Well yes and no. There’s an awful lot of hype, and Silicon Valley methods – move fast and break things – is not really the way medicine works.

As Doctors, we’re very sceptical and want assurance that something works before we recommend it.

But wearable tech has great promise, and now is getting good data.

I have always believed in the concept of empowering patients to be involved in making choices about their health and one of my core values is that ‘better information leads to better decisions and healthier patients’.

I am happy to work with my patients and utilise technology to collaborate and monitor their condition. I’m already starting to see patients who have self diagnosed atrial fibrillation on their smart watch. But not everyone has a smart watch, and wouldn’t it be great if you could have something that worked with your phone?

Apps like Fibricheck use the camera to look for atrial fibrillation. It tracks the pulse using a similar technology to heart rate monitors on watches and if your pulse is irregular it will alert you to atrial fibrillation.

I can honestly say I was very sceptical when I first saw these at conferences back in 2013. Sounded great, but was it better than feeling your own pulse? Certainly that’s not a comparison that the manufacturers make, but I wonder if its simpler to learn to check your pulse every now and then?

How do you feel your pulse?

I tell people to check their pulse at the wrist. Turn it so that your palm is facing up. See the tendons in the middle of your wrist. Place three fingers next to the tendons on the thumbward side.

You should feel a regular pulse about once per second. Feel if it is regular or not. You can count your pulse rate by counting the pulsations over 15 seconds and multiplying by 4 to get the beats per minute. If its irregular or fast (over 100 beats per minute) or slow (less than 50bpm) it’s worth getting checked out.

You can certainly get a lot of information by simply feeling your pulse, but it can be a bit subjective and it is not always the easiest thing to do.

I have embraced the use of wearable technology and I encourage my patients to use it and will help and support them to find the right tech for them.

The Next Level – ECG recording

The mainstream devices that monitor heart rate and rhythm are widely available and I have also been recommending ECG (electrocardiogram) machines for some years.

The Kardia by AliveCor is a fantastic little device which has been around for nearly a decade and takes things one step further. It can record a 1 lead or 6 lead ECG (depending on the model). You can also access ECGs in a watch such as the Apple Watch or Withings Smartwatch.

Of course, these are no substitute for an assessment by a doctor as there is a lot more to diagnosing heart problems than simply looking at your heart rate or ECG, but wearable tech can be very powerful when used in conjunction with your doctor.

If you are worried about any symptoms or signs of heart problems, then you should consult your GP (or you can make an appointment to come and see me) to get checked out.

Once you have a baseline diagnosis, this is when the wearable tech comes in.

The ‘Healthy Heart WhatsApp Group’

I have a ‘Healthy Heart WhatsApp group’ that I set up for my patients to give an opportunity to get help and advice without necessarily having to come back to the clinic to see me.

I think that this is the future and technology is only going to get more advanced in what it can tell us about the functioning of our bodies.

I am looking forward to embracing new innovations and working with my patients to give the most streamlined and accessible service that will be beneficial to all.


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