The Apple Watch's blood oxygen app/Apple

Smartwatches Have Been Measuring Blood Oxygenation For Years, But Is It Useful?

Smartwatches can measure anything from heart rate to sleep quality, but in the past couple of years a health indicator has become particularly relevant. It is the level of oxygen saturation in the blood. Apple and Samsung, the largest smartwatch makers in the world, added blood oxygen monitoring to their wearable devices in 2020. The COVID-19 pandemic has also made home biometrics even more preferred.

However, the introduction of blood oxygen monitoring in smart watches has also raised doubts about the usefulness of this information without the context of a healthcare professional. In ‘s review of the Apple Watch Series 6, Vanessa Hand Orellana said she hopes the Apple Watch can provide more indications along with blood oxygen levels. (She didn’t know if she should worry when her levels dropped to 92% overnight.) It’s used as, so it’s hard to figure out how to interpret these metrics.

In about 2 years, will blood oxygen levels be more useful than in 2020? The answer is not that simple. Medical experts say measuring blood oxygenation throughout the day under a variety of conditions can provide information not available with conventional pulse oximeters. In general, it is also good to have more access to health data at home.

However, these sensors still have drawbacks that may limit their usefulness. And smartwatch manufacturers are still looking for the best way to integrate blood oximetry into a wide range of features that give the wearer a complete picture of their overall health.

“We know that the science behind how oxygen is determined is not still as accurate as the hospital grade “, said Dr. Albert Rizzo, medical director of the American Lung Association, said: “That said, it has become useful from the patient’s point of view, or for tracking other vital signs in non-sick people, even healthy people. ”

Advancement in blood oxygen monitoring

Apple Watch Series 6 was the company’s first app to measure blood oxygen levels.

To understand the usefulness of measuring blood oxygen levels on a smartwatch, it is important to first understand what this metric means and how it is implemented in today’s wearable devices. The level of oxygen in the blood, also known as SpO2, indicates the amount of oxygen carried by the red blood cells. It is considered an important indicator of respiratory health as it indicates how well the body can absorb oxygen.

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Blood oxygen saturation is measured with a pulse oximeter which is usually held on a finger. Smart watches, such as the Apple Watch, measure this by pointing a light at the wrist and measuring the reflected light.

If your current smartwatch or fitness tracker cannot measure blood oxygen levels, there is an option to purchase one. This technology has become a staple of today’s wearable devices and can be found in products from Apple, Samsung, Fitbit, Garmin, and Withings.

Apple Watch Series 6 and Series 7 measure blood oxygen levels, as do the Samsung Galaxy Watch 3 and Watch 4. Fitbit devices such as the Sense, Ionic and Versa smartwatches, as well as the Charge 4, Charge 5, and Luxe fitness trackers can measure blood oxygen levels at night, even while you sleep.

However, most companies do not have FDA approval for their oximeter technology. Withings is an exception. The ScanWatch and ScanWatch Horizon blood oxygen meters are FDA approved. Maxime Dumont, Withings product manager for smartwatches, said the FDA statement should make the data more reliable for doctors.

“We will not change doctors and we do not intend to make a diagnosis in time,” he said. “But the doctor can trust the results of the clock ”

Before 2020 it was possible to measure blood oxygen levels on a smartwatch, but two years ago the technology took a breakthrough. As the pandemic engulfs hospitals and health systems, there is more interest in studying how wearable devices can track changes in the body at home.

Devices from Apple, Fitbit, Garmin and Oura were used in a study that examined whether wearable devices can predict disease early by measuring changes in body signals such as heart rate and temperature. A 2021 study published in Scientific Reports by researchers at the University of Sao Paulo and the University FMABC Center found that Apple Watch Series 6 was reliable in collecting SpO2 and heart rate data from patients with lung disease in a controlled environment.

Northwestern Medicine Central Cardiology Medical Director Dr. Noman Mushtaq said, “The number of people the medical system has to handle has made it a little easier to test the non-clinical oxygen sensors in the medical system.” DuPage and Delnor Hospitals.

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How useful are these sensors in smart watches?

Withings ScanWatch Horizon is FDA approved for blood oxygen monitoring.

Health sensors in smartwatches show promising results in research, but some experts aren’t sure how often these sensors are used in everyday situations. “Some patients have used Apple watches or similar devices to monitor blood oxygen levels “, said Dr. Ashraf Fawzy, assistant professor of medicine at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and pulmonologist, he said: “But it wasn’t as common as I thought. ”

As for regular use, Dr. Mushtaq finds blood oxygen sensors in devices like the Apple Watch most useful for adding context related to overall health. In most cases, the average healthy person will experience physical warning signs before experiencing hypoxemia or low blood oxygen levels, he said.

“To be honest, I don’t think I’m doing anything clinically meaningful for the average person, “, he said.

This does not mean that healthcare professionals do not see the possibilities. Smart watches have great advantages over traditional pulse oximeters. I mean, it fits on your wrist all day. Many smartwatches can perform background blood oxygenation measurements as well as provide point-of-care tests. This means that data can be collected at different times of the day.

Fitbit, Samsung, Garmin and Apple devices can passively monitor blood oxygenation levels during sleep, unlike traditional pulse oximeters used for on-demand measurements. Apple and Garmin can also sample blood oxygen levels periodically throughout the day.

However, smartwatches are good at checking SpO2 levels only at rest, even when scanning in the background. (Apple says the background measurement occurs when the user isn’t moving, and Garmin says it takes readings less often when it detects a lot of movement.)

These devices would be more useful because measuring oxygen levels in the blood during strenuous activity could tell a doctor whether to adjust the amount of oxygen a patient prescribes, said Dr. Wastepaper. Dr Mushtaq also said it could be helpful for patients with heart failure or pulmonary hypertension to see if blood oxygen levels drop during exercise.

“It can definitely help. ” “said Dr. Scrap Paper. “Because for some people, oxygen levels drop only when they are active and normalize when sitting quietly. ”

Health metrics are most useful when viewed in contexts such as blood oxygen levels or measures taken. Numbers and graphics only matter if you know how to use them well.

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“Ultimately, consumers aren’t buying sensors,” Julie Ask, vice president and chief analyst at research firm Forrester, told in a previous interview. “They don’t buy data. Consumers buy what they want to get results. ” ”

The Samsung Galaxy Watch 4 measures blood oxygen levels at night.

So what kind of context should the smartwatch provide to make blood oxygenation measurements more useful? Some companies try to answer this question by incorporating SpO2 results into other in-app health features and reports to better understand overall health. Samsung, for example, has integrated a sleep coaching feature based on SpO2 measurements into the Galaxy Watch 4 to allow Samsung representatives to help users understand their sleep patterns. Along with heart rate and movement, Withings uses blood oxygen levels as one of the indicators it observes to determine breathing disorders.

Phil McClendon, manager of Garmin’s health products management team, was unable to comment on future plans when asked if SpO2 measurements would be reflected in other health information. But he points to Garmin’s health snapshot as an example of the company’s approach to making health data more meaningful.

Health Snapshot collects various metrics (including heart rate, blood oxygenation, heart rate variability, breathing and stress) to provide a high-level view of your cardiovascular health. McClendon said this feature helps people quantify the changes that can occur in their body during abnormal events.

“So I think I have a panic attack. And would you like to record this ‘and export a PDF to take it to my doctor, he said for example.

The biggest benefit of currently measuring blood oxygen levels on smartwatches is learning what is considered normal for your body. Although the smartwatch is not intended for medical diagnosis, it is another signal that can alert the doctor when discomfort or changes in the body are detected.

“No matter what device you use, you can compare it with the baseline and use it as a trend monitor to see if you are moving away from the baseline, “said American Lung. Doctor of the Association. Rizzo. “You can change what you are doing or ask for help faster than other ways.

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