Marketing terminology can bamboozle the best of us when it comes to a smartwatch purchase. But are the touted health features effective, and how does the collated data inform your doctor?

We reached out to Dr Umair Masood, senior partner at Neal Street Medical Clinic, Gisborne, and vice president of the Australian Society of General Practice. Dr Masood is currently involved in researching wearable technology for use with diabetic patients.

Why do you think more people are turning to wearable technology to track their health?
It gives them a sense of control, and they can track their progress. It is well and good to receive advice from a doctor to, say, increase your exercise levels, but with these technologies the user can quantify this well. It provides for a better understanding of one’s health.

ECG technology has now been approved by the TGA across several smartwatch brands. How extensive is this technology in determining potential issues such as atrial fibrillation?
This is a welcome addition with TGA approval. It gives the user an indication of issues, such as atrial fibrillation, and will allow them to seek help earlier. The technology still has limitations. A traditional ECG has 12 points of recording and most of the wearable technology has three at most. Having said that, it is still a useful tool, and the user can be taught how to use it well.

What features on a smartwatch do you believe are beneficial to the user?
Heart rate, steps, calories, ECG, sugar levels and blood pressure are all beneficial to the user. It allows them to have a conversation with their doctor if they feel they are out of their comfort range. It also allows the user to maintain good health, and to start to understand their health needs.

Should the data recorded from features like blood oxygen levels and heart rate monitoring be taken seriously?
Yes, it should be taken seriously. We should still be careful in understanding the limitations of these technologies, but it does provide a lot of useful information. Sometimes, these new technologies don’t always get it perfectly right, but the user can still seek help if needed. It is safer to be told there are no issues after a health check than never getting checked out at all. These wearable technologies allow the user that choice.

Are these features accurate?
Most of the time they are. However, there are some limitations in extremes of readings, the physical contact of the technology to the user, how the data is deciphered, and the actual quality of the product. In time, it will continue to improve.

How far – if at all – are we away from a landscape where a patient’s health data and stats can be logged with their local GP through a portal, so results can be assessed and analysed during a standard appointment?
Not far at all. I am involved in a trial at our clinic, where we are trialling remote blood sugar monitoring with diabetic patients. This can provide real-time data with the doctor helping adjust medication doses more accurately, and in real-time. There are multiple projects such as this being undertaken, and I am certain this will become more widely available and used.

Health tracking features to look for in your next smartwatch.