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7 min read

How wearable design can directly affect our health

Wearable technology to track and monitor our health and exercise is on the rise. How can design make sure it serves us well?

Black smartwatch indicating number of calories burned

Image by Eli Zapa

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Jason hadn't been feeling right for a few weeks. He hadn't thought much of it. That was until he put on his Apple Watch.

"It said that I was in aFib".

Jason shrugged it off, assuming it was a false positive or a bug and went into work. The watch kept telling him he was in aFib (atrial fibrillation), but he didn't take much notice until his coworkers started to comment on how pale he looked.

He headed to the hospital and sure enough, the cardiac team said that he was close to going into cardiac arrest. He was in aFib.

Thankfully Jason survived and in the weeks since, he hadn't been notified by his watch of any other troubling signs.

Similarly, a teenager with a Samsung smartwatch was alerted to the fact their heart was racing at 219 beats per minute (the normal resting rate is between 60 to 100 BPM). His mother took him to the hospital where he was diagnosed with Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome (where an additional electrical pathway exists between the upper and lower chambers of his heart). This diagnosis would’ve been unlikely to happen without the wearable alerting the mother.

Photo of arm with smartwatch tracking calories

These cases aren’t one-offs. There are numerous stories about how health wearables have potentially saved lives by persistent monitoring and prediction of dangerous health conditions.

Our health is of the utmost importance to us and by all accounts, it seems as though wearables are about to become an integral part of the way we monitor it. Not only that, but - if designed right - they may also play a key role in predicting health later in our lives.

Tracking Covid-19

The most pressing health issue the world faces right now is the Covid-19 pandemic. The virus spreads fast when two people come into close contact and can have devastating outcomes.

Technology and software are being designed from a number of different companies and organisations to identify and track the spread of Covid-19.

The key development so far is from Apple and Google, who are working together to implement a contact-tracing system which will allow public health authorities to use native APIs (Application Programming Interfaces) to develop downloadable contact-tracing applications. These apps will track who you come into close contact with by exchanging anonymous, unique IDs wirelessly to each other's devices. If one person is diagnosed with Covid-19, they can trigger the app to alert all people they have come into contact with, so that they should self-isolate.

Healthcare is a basic human right - and it’s one that should be inclusive to all. This sentiment should extend to the health-tech market, where there is likely to be heavy investment and innovation in the coming years.

In addition, numerous researchers and institutions have launched their own Covid-19 tracking applications (e.g. Covid Symptom Study). These apps allow you to share how you are feeling, whether you have been tested for the virus