Hear me out: Have you ever noticed a strange red bump on your skin, or felt a strange pain in your chest, or basically anything that then led you down a WebMD rabbit hole, causing you to believe that your dick was going to fall off while your skeleton disintegrated and your skin melted into goo like that dude from Robocop?
It’s no exaggeration to say that the internet has turned all of us into raging hypochondriacs, interpreting any suspicious body pain or physical ailment as death knocking on our slightly creaking door. And according to a new BBCreport detailing how the new Apple Watch won’t only be able to automatically call emergency services if it detects you have suffered a fall, but also let you know if you have heart problems and should visit your doctor, things are likely to get worse.
“Medical professionals will also need to be vigilant to the risk of misdiagnosis and overtreatment that this proliferation of personalized health information could bring,” Richard Kerr, chairman of the Royal College of Surgeons’ Commission on the Future of Surgery, told the BBC. In other words, wearable tech is going to set off a lot of alarms for people, and some of those alarms are likely to be false.
Nonetheless, Lauren Grieco — founder of BehaviorX, a consulting firm that deals with wearable devices — tells me that in spite of the risks, physicians endorse wearable devices to the extent that they’ve been clinically tested and validated. Additionally, she suggests that wearable tech provides the highest impact for behavior change and improvements in outcomes. “Building the scientific evidence base into product and design will result in the greatest gains for health,” she says.
But while health gadgets will help spot early warning signs for potentially serious ailments, they do so at the risk of a sort of tech-induced hypochondria. “Wearable devices were derived from diagnostic testing meant to occur periodically, not continuously,” says Grieco. “The shift from a time-point based to constant monitoring of health states results in constant reminders and increased cognitive load to users.”
Kerr told Gizmodo that he calls such people of the near-future the “worried well.” “Right now, most patients see their doctor when they fall sick or unexplained symptoms prompt them to seek medical advice,” he explained. “However, very soon there will be an immense amount of health information available to patients, whether through data recorded by personal wearable devices and sensors, or a greater understanding of our genetic predisposition to future illnesses.”
Grieco also warns of the susceptibility of these devices to being hacked. “Security isn’t something device makers care about much; it’s an afterthought, as they need to push a lot of changes quickly. Customers don’t update wearable software much and patches don’t get applied, so components become less secure over time,” she says.
Still, as with most everything else tech-related, there’s no stopping the future. “With increases in connectivity, A.I. and proliferation of computing, wearables will become more pervasive and integrated into aspects of everyday life,” says Grieco.
You win, WebMD. NOW CALL ME A GODDAMN AMBULANCE!