A wearable may save your life, thanks to A.I. and big data. Here’s how

wearable devices leading to over diagnosis apple watch ekg jc 2
Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

You know that 1958 Norman Rockwell painting, Before the Shot? A boy bends over, preparing for a needle, while a friendly older doctor leans over vials and tongue depressors, prepping the injection. I was at my primary care physician’s office recently — no shots, thankfully, but I was struck by how little things have changed since then, and how the entire medical industry has struggled with technological change.

ECGs are something people get once a year at best; what if you could have that data not just on a daily basis but continuously?

Visit your doctor and you’ll likely fill out a paper form stating that your health insurance hasn’t changed. Then you fork over a co-pay … a credit card, or maybe even cash, right? Need a prescription? Ask your doc to fax it to the pharmacy. Time for an annual exam? Lie back, while we strap leads to your chest for an ECG. Need to get in touch with your doctor? Call him … they don’t like to supply email addresses, do they?

All of that is on the verge of change – and it’s about damn time. The Apple Watch Series 4 brought the world its first personal electrocardiogram (ECG), a neat feature that can measure your heart’s electrical activity and alert you if there are any causes for concern. And at CES 2019, Withings just announced the Move ECG, a mass market wearable with a similar feature at just $130. ECGs are something people get once a year at best, during our annual checkups; what if you could have that data not just on a daily basis but continuously? How many lives could be saved?

Meanwhile, Omron announced a blood pressure monitor in the shape of a smartwatch: the HeartGuide. As someone with high blood pressure, I bought a home blood pressure monitor a few years ago. It’s technical a wearable, but it’s ugly and ungainly, and most of the time it sits in the back of my cabinet. Omron released a smartwatch – an expensive one, for sure, but a game changer I think.

Omron’s HeartGuide and the Withings Move ECG herald key moves int0 the wearable space: Current devices are focused largely on fitness, or smartwatch functionality. That’s okay and all, but monitoring  your health more effectively is the real killer app. Would you spend $400 or $500 to save your life?

The kicker for your ticker is doing more with the data, however. According to some reports, a third of the world’s data is going to be generated by the healthcare industry. (Frankly, I’ve heard the exact same thing about autonomous cars. Point is, there’s a lot of new data being generated from a lot of new sources.) Think about those wearables, and the continuous stream of incredibly important health data coming out of them.

“We’re on the cusp of understanding something really important about human nature. It sounds pretentious but that’s a real thing for us.”

To analyze that info in any meaningful way, these devices need to be paired with the vast advances in AI and machine learning in recent years. Algorithms will soon support doctors by analyzing all of that data, teasing our relevant trends or potential problems, and proactively letting us know when issues arise.

So who will lead the charge in the healthcare data revolution? I suspect Google will play a key part. The company has already taken a leadership role in big data; keeping us healthy by helping study the vast troves of information that will come off of our wrists seems to jibe nicely with the company’s motto, “organizing the world’s information” – and its former motto, “do no evil.” Ensuring that people are comfortable sharing  personal data of this nature is the real challenge.

Withings Move ECG
Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

Meanwhile, Microsoft is paving the way with machine learning and artificial intelligence. You might not think so, given how crummy Cortana is, but AI is so much more than mere voice assistants. So it’s a good thing the Windows giant may ultimately kill the assistant, as some believe. Microsoft has been talking about AI for years; in early 2014, Peter Lee, head of Microsoft Research, told me about the company’s work in this area. Lee really believes that machine learning and smarter computers could shape society, and bring us to a deeper understanding of what makes us all tick.

“We’re on the cusp of understanding something really important about human nature. It sounds pretentious but that’s a real thing for us,” he said at the time. “Research is a long game.

Let’s see if they stayed in the game long enough to reap the rewards.

The views expressed here are solely those of the author and do not reflect the beliefs of Digital Trends.

Outdoors

These wireless earbuds use an A.I. to get you moving faster

The new Soul Blade wireless earbuds provide the ability to track your heart rate during a workout while an A.I.-powered coach gives advice and info on how to improve form and efficiency while exercising.
Gaming

Take to the virtual skies with these free flight simulators

You don't have to spend the entirety of your paycheck to become a virtual ace, at least when it comes to flight simulation. Our list of the best free flight simulators will let you unleash your inner Maverick.
Deals

Make some time for the best smartwatch deals for February 2019

Smartwatches make your life easier by sending alerts right on your wrist. Many also provide fitness-tracking features. So if you're ready to take the plunge into wearables and want to save money, read on for the best smartwatch deals.
Home Theater

Here’s why you’re not getting Netflix in HD or 4K, and how to fix it

Are you having trouble watching your favorite movies or TV shows on Netflix in HD or 4K? We explain why loading takes so long, why the picture quality fluctuates, and what you can do about it.
Wearables

The Google Pixel Watch could finally launch sometime this year

From its Pixel smartphones to Google Home, the Google brand is quickly becoming synonymous with high-quality consumer hardware. Eventually, according to rumors, Google may branch out a little further by creating its first smartwatch.
Wearables

Sony’s weird Wena isn’t a smartwatch, it’s a smart watch strap

Sony's Wena smart watch straps have been around since 2015; but the company has now decided to launch them outside of Japan, starting with the U.K.. The straps convert traditional watch straps into smart watches.
Wearables

To be blunt, the Vuzix Blade smartglasses just don’t cut it

We tried out the Vuzix Blade to find out if it’s worth shelling out $1,000 for smartglasses. Are these augmented reality, Android-powered glasses really ready for primetime or just an expensive gimmick that no one really needs?
Mobile

Smartwatch sales soared in 2018, with Apple leading the charge

The NPD Group, a market research organization, has reported smartwatch sales soared in 2018. Apple is leading the charge, but it's clear there's still room in the market for competitors, as Samsung and Fitbit also did well.
Mobile

North Focals smartglasses discount cuts the price by a massive $400

Canadian startup North is hoping smartglasses will be the next big wearable. After announcing its new Focals smartglasses in late 2018, the company opened product showrooms in Brooklyn and Toronto and has made its first shipment.
Wearables

Galaxy Watch Active isn't official yet, but you can see it in Samsung's own app

Samsung may be about to resurrect its Sport line of smartwatches under a new name: The Galaxy Watch Sport Active. Leaks and rumors are building our picture of the device at the moment.
Wearables

Focals succeed where Google Glass fumbled (but do we really need smartglasses?)

It’s been seven years since Google took the wraps off Google Glass. Now, we’re finally getting a modern-day equivalent we want to wear. North’s Focals combine subtle style with an intuitive interface to craft smartglasses you’ll…
Mobile

These 13 gadgets walk a fine line between ingenious and insane

The annual avalanche of devices and gadgets is astounding, but how many will succeed? A few are destined to spark new trends, while the majority fade deservedly into obscurity. We look at some gadgets on the border of brilliant and bonkers.
Deals

Amazon slashes prices on Fitbit Versa smartwatches for Presidents’ Day

Amazon is offering a solid $30 discount on this great fitness tracking smartwatch right now. So if you're looking for a wearable that can help you track steps, sleep, and activity, now is a great time to pick one up for less.
Emerging Tech

Awesome Tech You Can’t Buy Yet: Grow veggies indoors and shower more efficiently

Check out our roundup of the best new crowdfunding projects and product announcements that hit the web this week. You may not be able to buy this stuff yet, but it sure is fun to gawk!