The Apple Watch was launched just two weeks ago and already a couple flaws appear to be derailing the product for some users.  In order to function correctly the Apple Watch must be in close contact with the wearer’s skin; however, if there’s a tattoo in the way the Apple Watch may lock up or give an erroneous heart rate.  This is due to the fact that the Apple Watch uses green LED lights to measure the amount of blood flow in the wrist and tattoos appear to interfere with the light absorption.  While this may seem a minor inconvenience to some, we must take into account that roughly half of the U.S. population has at least one tattoo and many are located on the wrist.  For Apple, this significantly affects the number of consumers it can market to and that translates into less than expected sales figures.  This leads us to a discussion around the usefulness of knowing our heart rate, or other vital signs, and why it’s important to monitor these in the presence of certain chronic conditions.  After all, heart rate monitoring isn’t just for the fitness gurus among us.

Perhaps the first large scale dissemination of a mobile computing device for personal control of healthcare was the glucometer.  Diabetics tested their blood sugar, or glucose, several times a day and gave themselves an insulin injection based upon the numerical result of the test.  No doctor or nurse is involved once the patient has been educated on the device and a prescription for insulin is written.  From its inception in the early nineteen seventies, the glucometer has evolved into an extremely intelligent device.  Glucose levels are now stored and analyzed for critical trends; algorithms are run and beamed to home computers via blue tooth.  The device can remind a patient when they need to test and calculate how much and what kind of insulin to take.  

Often in chronic diseases such as diabetes or heart failure, there is a period leading up to an ER visit which is characterized by a fluctuation in common vital signs such as heart rate, respirations and blood pressure.  By the time a patient seeks help, these vital signs may be seriously abnormal.  In some cases, mobile computing could monitor minor tell-tale fluctuations and predict an oncoming problem before it occurs.  A doctor could be notified remotely and an adjustment in medication or treatment implemented which may help prevent a catastrophic event.  For example, hypertension, or high blood pressure, is often referred to as a “silent killer” because there is no outward warning sign.  Patients are dangerously unaware that they may be predisposed to a deadly stroke.

According to the American Heart Association about 800,000 people have a sudden stroke each year and of those roughly 137,000 are fatal.  However, days or even weeks before a stroke occurs, a spike in blood pressure may indicate that something is wrong.  A mobile app may catch this change in blood pressure and remotely notify a doctor or nurse, who then schedules a visit or changes a medication dosage.  This may prevent unnecessary strokes and save lives and money.

As was mentioned earlier, monitoring of key vital signs at home, or throughout the day at work, provides more benefit than simply taking one’s blood pressure during an annual physical.  By the time hypertension is diagnosed through a routine checkup, significant damage to the heart, kidneys and brain may have already occurred.  Therefore, it is reasonable to assume that patient self-monitoring is preferable to a doctor’s office visit and an outpatient appointment is better than a trip to the ER.  If you have a wrist tattoo that’s interfering with your Apple Watch, please consider a visit to Hall Plastic Surgery in Austin, TX where we can utilize the PicoSure™ laser to safely and effectively remove the ink and ensure your HR is always within your reach.