Health monitoring and our mobile devices


What a weird couple of days. Thursday was a pretty normal day at Apple World Today, with the exception of not being able to get some podcasting done. I went to teach an iOS class at the nearby Arapahoe Community College, got home, and then things went downhill. I awoke early Friday morning with severe chest pains and breathlessness, so I ended up going to the ER for a full day of tests...all of which have been inconclusive as to the cause of my malaise. I'm feeling better now -- no chest pains and I can finally breathe normally -- but it got me to thinking a bit about how my Apple Watch and iPhone helped me out over the last few days. 

To begin with, when I felt like I was having a heart attack on Friday morning the first thing I did was to grab my Qardio blood pressure meter and take my BP. It was quite normal, 112/78, but my pulse was way up over what it normally is. The gear in the ER confirmed that my blood pressure was fine, but my pulse -- which normally ticks along at a sedate 50-60 beats per minute resting rate -- was up closer to 90-100 beats per minute.  My Oxygen saturation levels were surprisingly low, too -- about 89-90%. 

During the full day of tests and feeling quite uncomfortable, I was able to use my iPhone for two things; keeping friends and family in the loop on what was happening, and looking up medical information on the Web. The Apple Watch let me keep an eye on my heart rate in between tests and being hooked to various monitors. 

On Saturday morning I noticed a new symptom; an overnight weight gain of about 10 pounds! Now, I wasn't feeling great, so I didn't eat much and I've never gained that much weight in just one day. I am one of those people who captures his weight religiously every day on a Withings Wi-Fi scale and tracks it in the Withings app, where it also moves over to Apple's Health app. Seeing a sudden rise in my normally steady weight was a shock. The doctors aren't sure what caused the edema, but it was nice to be able to give them an exact weight gain figure from the Health app as an additional set of data points for my health. 

That got me thinking about what the Apple Watch and iPhone could do at some point in the future, and what data points the devices -- especially the Watch -- could capture for health monitoring. Why not constantly keep track of not only heart rate, but blood pressure, blood oxygen saturation, and body temperature as a start? All of these can be captured relatively easily using electro-optical sensors, and they'd be a great addition to the basic heart rate info. Being able to get notification of abnormally high (or low) blood pressure, low oxygen saturation, or the rapid onset of a fever could be excellent information to pass along to doctors and nurses who might need to see the clues behind your malady. 

What we have right now is the good start to a Star Trek-like medical tricorder that could be used to diagnose a lot of illnesses or warn our healthcare providers when we're getting into a potentially dangerous situation. It's still not a replacement for a good doctor, nurse, and team of highly-trained professionals who can use their knowledge and years of experience to diagnose and hopefully cure whatever ails you, but being able to have a device on your wrist and in your pocket that can start warning you and your healthcare pros of when things are going awry with your body would be a good help.