Sci-fi writers have pined for decades for the ultimate wrist device that performs all of our communications, information and medical needs. With new advances in heart monitoring, the future is finally here — and it looks pretty sharp.

The French company Withings just unveiled ScanWatch, the world's first clinically validated analog smartwatch that not only tells time but also detects both risk of arrhythmia (AFib) and sleep apnea and can give you an electrocardiogram (ECG) — also known as EKG — all from your wrist. These procedures usually require visits to specialized labs and doctors’ offices.

Apple has already received the Food and Drug Administration's (FDA) approval for similar functions performed by its Apple Watch — with a couple caveats. The FDA says Apple’s watch isn’t intended for use by minors and is not a substitute for professional medical evaluation. FitBit has similar clearance for its wrist band, which also doubles as a watch. Withings is waiting for FDA approval as a medical device. 

All of the devices work with a single electrode at the wrist that monitors electrical pulses from the heart. It should be noted that full ECGs typically use multiple electrodes placed near the patient’s heart and at the extremities, and the scans should be interpreted by trained cardiologists.

Some critics worry that the heart scans can cause undue anxiety — or create complacency in people who should be consulting medical professionals. But the makers say they are meant as a tool that could alert wearers to abnormalities that need attention — thus saving lives.

The Withings watch is expected to hit the market this spring. There will be two sizes, which look slightly different. The smaller 38 mm version is sleek and rounded with a glossy finish and will retail for $249; the larger 42 mm model has a thicker metal bezel and will go for $299. 

“ScanWatch is our most ambitious medical tracker and purposely designed to detect the early presence of AFib and sleep apnea,” says Mathieu Letombe, the company’s CEO. 

These are “two related issues that are extremely common yet largely undiagnosed, despite their known impact on multiple health conditions.”


Some video imagery courtesy of Withings 

Published on Jan 20, 2020