COVID-19 second wave has hit India hard and killed lakhs till date. Doctors say, one of the major reasons that most deaths happen among people affected with coronavirus is due to the delay in monitoring of the blood oxygen level and eventually late hospitalisation. Rapid dip in SpO2 level in a human body is one of the key symptoms seen in a person affected with COVID-19 and that, doctors suggest, should be checked at a much early stage of the disease.

There are two ways to monitor blood oxygen level at home, one, with pulse oximeter, which are readily available in the market, and second, smart wearables with SpO2 monitor. There are several smartwatches and fitness bands in India that comes with support for blood oxygen monitor and other health features such as heart rate monitor, temperature monitor, and much more.

Some question that many have in mind at this juncture are: are these smartwatches with blood oxygen monitor reliable? are they better than pulse oximeter? Well, doctors say they are, somewhat.

Some doctors believe that smartwatches with SpO2 monitor are good to identify initial symptoms but shouldn’t be preferred over a certified health device in the long run.

Pulse Oximeter vs Smartwatches with spo2

Kolkata based Dr Samit Ghosal MD, FRCP, MSc (Diabetes Care) said in conversation with BGR India, “smartwatches are quite accurate in estimating heart rate and it is associated anomalies but not other parameters.” Ghosal added, “smartwatches are somewhat comparable to the pulse oximeter readings but only at rest in pre-symptomatic stage of COVID.”

A Delhi-based Ent surgeon and facial Aesthetics expert Dr Pranshu Mehta also agreed with Ghosal and said that “smartwatches can prove to be a good alternative to pulse oximeter for measuring oxygen saturation in normal/ ambient conditions, where as in diseased cases it may over estimate oxygen levels/ or underestimate the heart rate and hence medical grade equipments should be preferred.”

Mehta highlighted, “if you are an apparent healthy individual – smart watches (tested and verified ones) might prove to be good security check with good accuracy.”

Taking into consideration these opinions from specialised doctors, smartwatches appear to be a good alternative to pulse oximeter but not for people with comorbidities or other serious existing health conditions. In case of a healthy person, smartwatches look like a good alternative to oximeter to consider.

GOQii Vital

Highlighting the benefits of SpO2 monitor in smartwatches Vishal Gondal, Founder and CEO, GOQii said, “the perfect combination of tracking body temperature and oxygen rate, will help in immediate tracking of potential cases. With the nature of the virus and its rapid spread, the key in controlling its numbers is early detection and confinement of the suspected cases. With a smart wearable, an individual can immediately get a sense of changes in their vitals and co-relate to a bigger health problem.”

“The key is to understand your symptoms and correlate them to changes in body vitals. As we battle the pandemic, these smart wearable devices will enable you to understand your health better while you Keep A Watch on crucial parameters such as blood oxygen levels, body temperature, heart rate & blood pressure. The moment you detect temperature changes coupled with low blood oxygen levels, you know you have to contact your healthcare provider and get tested,” Gondal  added.

Pulse oximeter buying guide: Check for accuracy

Image: Pixaby

Comparing smartwatches with SpO2 monitor and certified medical devices, Honey Singh, Brand Advisor of Amazfit India said, “compared with the results of professional oxygen analyzers, the average error of OxygenBeats is only 1.67% reflecting accuracy superior to that of most wearable wrist devices for blood oxygen detection.”

Singh, however, said that “smartwatch Spo2 readings are indicative measures to be accurate but should not be considered an alternative to medical-grade devices. Our team has also collaborated with medical institutions and R&D centers for the smart wearable joint laboratory to combat COVID-19 using data from our AI platform.”

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