Dr. Garmin will see you now

There’s a reason smartwatches aren’t replacing clinically proven equipment when you visit the hospital—accuracy and reliability are critical when data informs medical procedures. Nevertheless, researchers are looking for ways to meaningfully use these devices in clinical settings. A project studied in England, if a Garmin Venu 2 and a dedicated companion app can be used to free doctors and nurses up to six minutes at a time.

The Six Minute Walk Test (6MWT) is used to diagnose and monitor a number of cardiovascular diseases. This includes terms and conditions Pulmonary hypertension which, if left untreated, is ultimately fatal. “[The test has been] as a cornerstone of hospital practice and clinical trials worldwide for decades […] it is an indicator of how well the heart and lungs are working,” said project leader Dr. Joseph Newman told Engadget. While a change in a blood test marker may be clinically relevant, he said, “it’s more important that someone can go to the store and back.”

The test requires the patient to walk on a flat, hard surface for six minutes straight, which creates enough strain to measure the heart’s capacity. The specialist checks the patient’s heart rate and blood oxygen level at the beginning and end. According to Dr. Newman, while it is simple and reliable, it is “not perfect.” “So we tried to change it in two important ways,” he said, “can we shorten it?” […] and digitize for remote use?”

After all, six minutes is a lifetime in a clinical setting, and patients don’t like going to the hospital just to walk up and down the corridor. Newman and Lucy Robertson, researchers at the Royal Papworth Hospital in Cambridge, began looking for ways to revolutionize the test. They wanted to see if the test could be shortened to one minute, and could also be performed by a patient at home using the Venu 2.

The watch is connected to a secure and dedicated clinical trial platform built by Aparito, based in Wrexham, for testing. This was then sent to patients who were instructed to wear a watch and walk outdoors to complete their tests. “They are asked to drive on straight, level, dry, relatively level roads, not in laps or circuits,” he said.

“We did a product evaluation early in the research process and were open-minded about the brand or model,” said Dr. Newman. “Garmin excelled for several reasons; we can access the raw data as well as Garmin’s algorithmically derived variables,” he said. As the research was funded by the British Heart Foundation, a charity, the watch had to offer good value. That helped give the team “confidence in the accuracy of the sensors,” with Garmin’s established health research division, not to mention the fact that Aparito felt “the Garmin SDK was relatively easy to work with,” he added.

With Garmin currently in use, there’s no reason why this setup won’t eventually work with a number of other brands. “As long as the technology works, it’s accurate, it’s reliable, and patients accept it, then we’re not tied to any brand,” he said.

Allowing patients to perform the tests at home has several advantages: it more closely reflects the demands of their real lives, and patients can repeat the test at regular intervals, making it easier to track that person’s health over time. “We can see real value in providing an app and smartwatch to monitor the progress of patients with pulmonary hypertension,” said Dr. Newman. “The need for private hospital visits can never be completely replaced, but it will reduce their frequency.”

The results of the study show that currently cutting the test to one minute has no detrimental effect on its result or accuracy, and that patients are more likely to take the test regularly if they can do it at home. “Most likely the upfront costs of wearables [to a hospital] could be offset by a long-term reduction in hospital visits,” said Dr. Newman. If this turns out to be true, it means that clinicians can better focus their time and efforts on where their practice is most valuable.

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