The future is here. I’m wearing it on my wrist. It’s a minimalist rubbery black band with a narrow black window. It tells me things when I press its button, and it records 24/7.
No, I am not wearing an iWatch, in spite of being a devoted Apple fan boy. Yes, I thought about an iWatch. I waited for an iWatch. And now that they are in, I’ve admired an iWatch.
But the future is more likely about the Tricorder, v1.0 that I’m wearing. And at $150 it’s a lot cheaper than an iWatch.
Too young to be a Star Trek fan to know about the Tricorder? It was a fictional device used by Bones, the fussy doctor who tended the crew of the starship Enterprise. Held in one hand, it diagnosed medical problems with a simple wave over the patient’s body. It was a one-tool-does-all thing.
Well, Tricorder v1.0 doesn’t do it all. But it does a lot. And we can be confident that 2.0 is in the works, witness the Tricorder X prize, a $10 million contest sponsored by Qualcomm to “bring healthcare to the palm of your hand.”
The black band on my wrist isn’t fictional. It is a Fitbit Charge HR, now widely available in stores. It is part of a new wave of health and fitness tools that can record your heart rate from your wrist rather than from a chest band.
Press a button on the band once, and it lights up to tell the time. Press again and it tells you the total steps you’ve taken today. Press it once more and your heart rate appears. (Mine is a restful 55 while sitting at my computer.)
Since the band detects motion, regular reports on the Fitbit app tell me how long I’ve slept and how often I was restless or awake. It also calculates resting heart rate, total calories burned for the day and time spent in “fat burn” heart rate.
What it won’t do is lose weight for me.
For that to happen I’ll have change from a passive observer of data to an active participant. I’ll need to enter what I eat and watch the balance between calories ingested and calories burned. I hate that part, but I’ve already learned that keeping calories below about 2,300 a day will produce weight loss. It’s also clear that what I do for a living doesn’t consume many calories.
What I need to do more often is party. Attending a party and dancing for two hours has been the highest calorie burner to date. So, Dr. Fitbit, I’m going to work on that. More parties. Just for my health.
What we have here is a new paradigm for health care— patient-participating-health-care. Another company, Alivecor, makes a tiny $75 device that will do a 30 second electrocardiogram, any time you want. As you hold it, you can watch the ECG move across the screen of your smartphone. At the end of 30 seconds an algorithm reviews the reading and identifies atrial fibrillation if you have it. If its AFib, you can make notes on the conditions that might have induced it. This little tool comes with an adhesive back so you can attach it to your smartphone. Then you can email your ECG, from the app, to your cardiologist, opening a new and easy channel of observation at a distance.
My readings, so far, have all been normal. That means my favorite medical word describes my heart: “unremarkable.” This, in spite being diagnosed with AFib 8 years ago.
Download the new “Stroke Riskometer” app and answer some questions. It will tell you your stroke risk over the next 5 years and 10 years, all based on data from the famous Framingham Heart Study. It will also give you an opportunity to enroll in a global stroke study. It may help reduce death from stroke even more than the 50 percent reduction of the last 30 years.
All this will create a whole new mode of health research: medical data crowdsourcing. It will also build a world of participant patients rather than passive patients.