High-tech wearables – from behaviour modification to life-saving alerts

 

“I wanted to use my Apple watch to get healthier through Vitality, but it ended up saving my life” – Russell Pengelly, Discovery Vitality member

Entrepreneur Russell Pengelly lives a high-energy and driven lifestyle

In February 2017, the Capetonian found himself between meetings during the sort of fast-paced day typical of running his educational software business. A gym-goer, he’d developed a habit of regularly checking his Apple Watch.

“My pulse reading was 160 beats per minute. I put it down to my excitement over developments at work including an overseas trip the following week,” Russell explained. “It was also hot and I’d had about five or six Coke Zeros,” he adds. “But, in the back of my mind, I knew something was wrong.”

Russell’s concern was justified.

His pulse remained elevated all afternoon, through the night and well into his return to Cape Town, about 36 hours after his Apple watch had first alerted him to a potential cardiac problem. After urgent consultation with his GP, an ECG and emergency meds, Russell found himself opposite his cardiologist, who, to Russell’s shock, couldn’t believe he was still alive and kicking. His patient was suffering from a condition known as Atrial Fibrillation—a form of irregular heart beat that can lead to poor blood flow, clots, stroke, heart failure and more. His cardiologist used cardioversion, a technique that uses electricity to treat an abnormal heart rate, to restore Russell’s cardiac rhythm to normal.

Russell’s vigilance and ability to measure his heart rate in real-time on his Apple watch, proved life-saving . “I wanted to use my Apple watch to get healthier through Vitality, but it ended up saving my life,” reflected Russell. The incident was a serious wake up call for the father of two, who has since continued his daily gym session but now avoids coffee, all fizzy drinks and sugar.

No limit to high-tech wearables potential for tracking health

Wearable tracking devices are increasingly able to monitor and store vast amounts of data about the wearer.

“Behaviour modification is most effective when it’s in real time, and we’re just starting to crack that nut,” says top US medical device innovator and founder of Augmedix, Pelu Tran, who wants so-called wearables to make it easy for people to engage in health-promoting behaviour. “Imagine if, in addition to tracking how far you walk, your wearable also provided real time suggestions,” Tran offers. “What if your device could detect the approach of your next appointment and remind you to leave a few minutes earlier so you could take a longer route and walk for longer or suggest that you skip the elevator and take the stairs instead?”

Pioneered by non-healthcare companies like Google and Amazon, these data-rich innovations, are also set to uncover patterns and causes of disease as well as predict longevity, in ways yet to be imagined.

Members benefit from technology

“The explosion in digital healthcare innovation has the potential to reduce both doctors’ workload and overall healthcare costs five-fold within the next few years,” explains Dr Ryan Noach, Deputy CEO of Discovery Health. “Technological and digital advances will improve healthcare quality and delivery, speeding up diagnoses and reinventing the way medicine is practiced, ultimately saving billions in healthcare costs.”

“Our focus is always to empower members and doctors to better manage their health and generally improve co-ordination and quality of care using the best available digital technology tools,” says Noach.”

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