Apple Vs. Fitbit: who better to tell you how you are in good health and why you are both wrong in a crucial chapter

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Lately, the way consumer technology companies market their health capabilities is more pompous than what their gadgets can actually do.

This is a dangerous trend, which undermines the potential positive effect that collecting data on the body could have on our health. The problem is even more acute now that people are looking for ways to monitor their health and even identify any clues that might suggest SARS-Cov-2 infection.

Doctors are increasingly treating oxygenation as a vital sign, as it can help reveal conditions such as sleep apnea, pulmonary embolism and Covid-19.

Therefore, it may seem useful to have such a device on your wrist. But the landscape is starting to be less optimistic, if you pay a little more attention to company announcements. No device is approved by the Food and Drug Administration.

The concern comes after a test. The results? Far too disparate

Geoffrey A. Fowler, de la The Washington Post, provided details on the efficiency of monitoring blood oxygen indicators for Apple and Fitbit portable smart devices: Apple Watch Series 6 and Fitbit Sense.

When doctors test oxygen in the blood, they often use sensors on their fingers called pulse oximeters. These devices conduct light through the skin and nails to detect blood color as a measure of the amount of oxygen.

They produce a measure called SpO2, and most healthy people have results that range from 95% to 100%. To compare the results from smart watches, Fowler used an FDA-approved finger pulse oximeter with a plus / minus error rate of two percentage points.

Unlike finger oximeters, the two smart watches try to read the oxygen in the blood from the wrist. And companies don’t make a fuss when it comes to accuracy.

The results of the oxygen indicators from Apple

The new Apple watch has lights at the bottom to generate signals that are reflected back from the wrist blood and read by sensors.

An app allows you to check on the spot at any time and also runs on its own while you sleep. One of the disadvantages is that you have to stay completely still for about 15 seconds for the watch to read the clues.

“The first time I tried this on the Apple Watch 6, it told me that my oxygen level was 88% – shockingly low, given that I was in good health. Five minutes later, I tested again, and my SpO2 was 95%. I kept trying and kept getting different readings – and often a “failed measurement” error message, writes Geoffrey Fowler.

The results of the oxygen indicators from Fitbit

In the case of Fitbit, the results were less irregular, but the device provides less information.

With Fitbit Sense you can’t check on the spot. Instead, it measures your SpO2 while you sleep and provides an average per night.

“My oxygen level reported by Fitbit is usually between 95% and 97%. It sounds believable, although I can’t compare it to the results of my oximeter with my finger, because I’m not awake to start it “.

Why are both Apple and Fitbit fooling you with health monitoring devices?

One thing is clear: both companies market a device with medical functions, while insisting somewhere in the small print that it still does not offer medical functions.

“Pulse oximeters can tell you in a trend situation if your oxygen is in the normal range. But it is not necessarily a major indicator of problems, including Covid-19.
Albert Rizzo, chief physician of the American Lung Association

There could be serious consequences if users get carried away by all this enthusiasm around health monitoring devices.

“It’s a dangerous trend for technology companies to release devices under the label of medical devices, but they don’t meet FDA standards and are therefore not medical devices,” said Brian Clark, a pulmonologist and professor at Yale University School of Medicine. .

Although it is a matter of marketing strategy, and perhaps not so much of a company’s intentions to fool its audience, some measures to provide concrete information to users about the performance and usefulness of monitoring devices could eliminate the confusion and danger created.


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