The new Apple Watch can be summed up in two words : blood oxygen :

The ability to measure your blood's oxygen saturation - an overall indicator of wellness is the most significant new feature in Apple Watch Series 6, which was unveiled recently. [The watch is otherwise not that different from last year's Apple Watch]

The feature is particularly timely with the coronavirus, because some patients in critical conditions with Covid-19 have had low blood oxygen levels.

But how useful is this feature for all of us, really?

I had a day to test the new $399 Apple Watch to measure my blood oxygen level. The process was simple.

You open the blood oxygen app on the device, keep your wrist steady and hit the Start button. After 15 seconds, during which a sensor on the back of the watch measures your blood oxygen level by shining lights onto your wrist, it shows your reading.

In three tests, my blood oxygen level stood between 99 percent and 100 percent.

I wasn't quite sure what to do with this information. So I asked two medical experts about the new feature. Both were cautiously optimistic about its potential benefits, especially for research.

The ability to constantly monitor blood oxygen levels with some degree of accuracy, they said, could help people discover symptoms for health conditions like sleep apnea.

''Continuous recording of data can be really interesting to see trends,'' said Cathy A.Goldstein, a sleep physician at the University of Michigan's Medicine Sleep Clinic, who has researched data collected by Apple Watches.

But for most people who are relatively healthy, measuring blood oxygen on an everyday basis could be way more information than we need.

Eyhan Weiss, a cardiologist at the University of California, San Francisco, said he was concerned that  blood oxygen readings could create anxiety in people and lead them to take unnecessary tests.

''It can be positive and negative,'' he cautioned. ''It could keep people out of doctors' offices and at home and give them reassurances, but it could also create a lot of anxiety.''

That's important to remember as smart watches gain new health monitoring health features that gives us information about ourselves that we have to figure out how to use. 

When the Apple Watch Series 4 introduced an electrical heart sensor for people to take electrocardiograms in 2018, it was useful for people with known heart conditions to monitor their health.

But doctors warned that it was also a novelty that should not be used to jump to conclusions or for people to self-diagnose heart attacks or other conditions.

And so, here we are again.

The honor and serving of the latest operational research on gadgets and devices continues. The World Students Society thanks author Brian X Chen.


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