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Playing doctor at home

By Jean-Claude Elias - Jul 25,2019 - Last updated at Jul 25,2019

Do you check your heart pulse rate or blood pressure at home? Or maybe you monitor your blood sugar yourself? Perhaps you trust your smartwatch to tell you when to stop exercising and avoid exhaustion. The recent models of Apple Watch let you even perform an ECG (electrocardiogram)! The key question here is how much can you trust these personal medical gadgets? To what extend do they replace going to the hospital or to your physician?

The versatility of personal digital devices is extraordinary. This is due mainly to the fact that they have become small, easy to use and affordable, and also to the wide availability of thousands of software applications associated with the devices and that let you perform countless tasks, from the warm comfort of your home. Most of this was unthinkable a mere 10 or 15 years ago.

One has to admit that playing doctor yourself this way works in most cases. It gives instant results and saves you precious time and money. Moreover, the personal digital instruments you may have at home, including smartphones of course, are based on the same technology, the same electronic chips and the same software that you would find at the hospital or at your doctor’s clinic.

There are still differences; non-negligible ones. Not taking them into consideration can lead to serious trouble.

However, similar to professional equipment your home devices may be, they are still “simplified”, in a certain way. It is like comparing your standard JD600 laptop to a military-grade model that would cost up to 10 times more but that would be much more reliable in every way.

Then there is the reading, the actual interpretation of the results. Medical professionals are trained to “decipher” the numbers, the charts, the graphics that digital instruments produce. They do not always see them exactly the way you do.

Last but not least, physicians know how to put the results in context. They take into consideration a number of factors that you may easily overlook, or simply are not trained to evaluate, and that may greatly affect the final diagnosis — that magic word! Sometimes even doctors find it hard to come up with a diagnosis. They would repeat the test, ask you to take other tests, consult with their colleagues, etc. This complex process is something that you cannot reasonably think of replicating on your own at home.

Earlier this week there was an interesting and long article on by Vanessa Orellana titled “Apple Watch ECG vs. hospital EKG” and that tackles the subject above.

Perhaps the wise approach consists of using personal digital devices with care and with the greatest gift given to mankind: common sense. When you are not feeling particular under any form of severe health crisis, and the results you are reading are simple, straightforward and obvious, you can trust them. For instance, most smartphones today can run apps that measure your heart rate simply by pressing your finger against the camera on the back. In most cases it is flawless.

On the other hand, if you are feeling really bad, and regardless of what your home device tells you or what you are reading on it, going to qualified medical care is the only solution.

In other instances, calling your physician to tell him what you have already measured yourself and then let him decide what action to take, may be the smartest approach and the best, safest way to put home digital devices to good use.

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