As the smart watch becomes more sensor-packed healthcare tool than gadget, the healthcare sector may need to be on its guard, particularly when Apple’s CEO, Tim Cook, has said he hopes healthcare will ultimately be the company’s “most important contribution to humankind.
For the past two years, major tech companies has been receiving a steady stream of letters from people who says their smart watches has saved their lives. One woman, who wrote to Apple in 2018, says her watch helped detect the potentially fatal condition of thyroid storm, because it flagged up an abnormally high heart rate. A smart watch was also possibly the saviour of a man who had been given the all-clear from his doctor, but who nearly died due to having four blocked arteries. The gadget, not the doctor, detected he had an issue and had suffered a heart attack.
The smart watch can even pick up on allergies and is becoming more sophisticated with every new series. An FDA-approved electrocardiogram is included in models of certain smart watches and this enables the device to measure the electric current that makes the heart beat. In this way, it can detect atrial fibrillation, which can cause a stroke. Here, the watch can call on more than user evidence.
The smart watch is now so sophisticated that an owner can record their own ECG and send it to a cardiologist. It will also track menstrual cycles. When the next series emerges, it is likely to include glucose sensors and the means to measure levels of oxygen in the blood.
But as sophistication increases, so too could the threat to the medical community. Should a medical professional ignore or mistrust smart watch data presented to them by a patient, and should that patient then suffer from a condition on which the medic did not act, having had it presented to them by the watch’s technology, the result could be a medical negligence trial.
GPs have not necessarily taken kindly to patients who self-diagnose. In October 2017, GPs actually threatened to stop seeing patients who had Googled their symptoms and come to their own conclusions, prior to visiting them. Self-diagnosing patients have been labelled “cyberchondriacs” by the British medical profession. Furthermore, in June 2018, the Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP) refused to admit the possibility that an Artificial Intelligence app could treat patients as well as a GP can. Its words were, “No app or algorithm will be able to do what a GP does.”
Given this resistance within the medical profession towards patient-owned technology and online information, there is every chance that a medic might not act on a smart watch diagnosis. It may well be a medical negligence trial waiting to happen.
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