Smartwatches are the new doctors: Diagnosis made easy

Akshatha N. S.

Credits: Mikhail Nilov, Pexels

  Gadgets have taken a large portion of our lives and made us comfy. Smartwatches, a fashion gadget, can do many more things than time-telling. This article unravels the outcomes of an interesting study that gives a proof-of-concept of smartwatches as better health predictors.

  In today’s digital world, wearable sensors like smartwatches, Fitbit, and smart finger rings have started to take over the digital market as personalised health monitors. They have become popular primarily for their style and convenience in a growing trend. Apart from telling the time, these watches track our day-to-day actions while also checking important health parameters such as heartbeat, blood pressure, oxygen concentration, and many more.

  A recent research study published in Nature Medicine emphasises the role of smartwatches as a potential tool in the diagnosis of health issues. Researchers and biomedical engineers from Duke University and Stanford University collaboratively conceived this study to prove the ability of wearable sensors to precisely predict health databases of individuals in similar lines with invasive clinical laboratory tests, using long term data.

  The study started in 2015 with 54 patients who were given an Intel Basis smartwatch to wear for three years. Predetermined parameters such as physical activity, heart rate at rest, body temperature, and sweat production via electrodermal activity were continuously monitored via the smartwatch. Simultaneously, standard blood tests, including haemoglobin, RBC and platelet counts, and blood glucose levels, were routinely monitored in diagnostic lab tests.

  The study shows the improved and consistent results of smartwatches compared to laboratory results. Surprisingly, resting heart rate showed more consistency and accuracy with smartwatches over clinical tests, which could be the result of a non-anxiety environment and constant test time. In contrast, clinical tests better determined body temperature than the superficial skin temperature on smartwatches. In addition, dehydration levels, changes in red blood cells, glucose, and iron were also monitored during the study, showing promising accuracy in predicting health burdens such as symptoms of flu and anaemia.

Credits: Karolina Grabowska, Pexels
  Researchers say this is a proof of concept of the need for continuous monitoring to predict a person’s health. Although laboratory diagnostic tests are specific and accurate, the major drawback lies in irregular tests. These tests reflect a person’s health status at a single time point ( time of testing) and are hence less effective than continuous monitoring. For a person with chronic illness, monitoring health parameters on a routine basis becomes necessary, where smartwatches can be of great help. The information from smartwatches can be correlated to illness. For instance, when there’s a high body temperature with no body movement, the person can be diagnosed with flu. Decreased heart rate can be a sign of heart-related complications.

  The study found a significant difference between the continuous versus scheduled monitoring of health parameters on smartwatches and laboratory visits, respectively, over the same health signs. Evidently, daily variation in the body, which clinical labs fail to monitor, can be tracked by the smartwatches and raise the alarm when the body crosses the normal baselines, which might need immediate clinical investigations. The authors are assertive on the outcomes of this unique study which is an amalgam of machine learning (a growing technology which enables computers to learn and analyse automatically from past data) and precision therapy (customised healthcare that is tailored to an individual patient).

Credits: Cottonbro, Pexels
  Smartwatches are not to be mistaken as a replacement for clinical tests but a platform for the early diagnosis of illness by continuous monitoring. Albeit having limitations in terms of accuracy in predicting sickness, this study significantly contributes to the arena of health monitoring systems of patients. The research team with great hope envisions that these smartwatches will be a game changer in clinical decision making, with their easy and non-invasive nature. Smartwatches in the future might be able to detect health features more accurately and fetch quick data for diagnosis.


  1. D. E. Berlyne. Aesthetics and psychobiology. Appleton-Century-Crofts (1971).

Akshatha is a third-year graduate student at JSS Medical College, Mysuru, Karnataka. She is a budding biologist in Dr. Divya P. Kumar’s lab, exploring the pathogenesis of the nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, a lifestyle-driven condition. She’s a passionate dancer and a bibliophile with a life mantra - Be good, do good.

Note: This article was submitted by Akshata N.S as an assignment during the workshop Scicomm for Scientists 2021, organised by Cogito137, IISER Kolkata, funded by the Department of Science and Technology, Govt. of India. The assignment was selected for publication and has undergone due editorial process. Team Cogito137 thanks Spoorthy Raman for the initial editorial review of this article.

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