The benefits and perils of pervasive health monitoring

“My piece on Apple’s glucose monitoring project spawned a number of interesting discussions, and that’s led me to think there’s another chapter in this story to discuss,” Chuq Von Rospach blogs. “That’s the downsides of our move into constant biometric monitoring, whether it’s the Apple Watch pulse monitor or the ability for someone to do 24×7 monitoring of our blood glucose.”

“These things are boons for people that need access to this info, but they can become crutches and, beyond that, create problems for people who get too involved with the data,” Von Rospach writes. “I’ve had a chance to talk about this with various medical people over the last few months. As I’ve mentioned previously, last fall we tried a change in my medications that I had a bad reaction to and ended up in the emergency room… Since a rapid pulse was a primary symptom of this gremlin, I found myself getting in the habit of tracking, and starting to obsess, about my pulse numbers. And that led to me (a) having to not check my pulse unless I felt there was a problem to break that habit, and (b) having conversations with various doctors about this.”

“They all noted that they’re starting to see this dark side of this ‘always monitoring’ capability we’re starting to build into our lives,” Von Rospach writes. “It’s easy to get too tied to the numbers, to start obsessing about them, stressing out around them. Finding problems in them that otherwise you wouldn’t notice, or cause you to turn a minor thing into a major worry.”

“I see the same kind of challenge with the upcoming glucose product, if and when it happens. I was honestly a little disturbed when Tim Cook said he’d been checking his continuously, because while he was obviously acting as a testing subject, I don’t think he’s someone who ought to be doing that. I think some advanced or elite athletes might benefit from it as well, but most of us who struggle to fill the rings every day wouldn’t,” Von Rospach writes. “Most people don’t need 24×7 glucose monitoring and it would become easy for some who try it to find reasons to freak out or stress about it.”

Read more in the full article here.

MacDailyNews Take: How many people do you know already who are obsessed about their step count or their Activity rings?

We know quite a few (besides ourselves). We can certainly see Von Rospach’s point, especially when the data over which people are obsessing are tracking more important matters than step count.

Apple CEO Tim Cook has been test-driving a device that tracks his blood sugar, connected to his Apple Watch – May 18, 2017
Apple reportedly working on incorporating blood glucose sensor into Apple Watch – May 15, 2017
Apple secret team reportedly working holy grail for treating diabetes; initially envisioned by Steve Jobs – April 12, 2017
Apple patent details Apple Watch smart bands – January 24, 2017
Emails between Apple and FDA hint at future plans – December 1, 2016
Analyst: Apple smartbands are a part of the Apple Watch’s future – April 8, 2016
Apple patent application hints at Apple Watch ‘Smartbands’ utilizing hidden 6-pin data connector – February 20, 2016


  1. Same thing with people thinking they’re self-diagnosing doctors by virtue of a readily available online search for symptoms and treatments. Gad do health care professionals hate that! But on the other side of things they miss things too since they are often overwhelmed.

    Someday an AI system will give us (well, future generations) a daily morning scan at home and let us know if anything looks suspect way before it’s a problem. And possibly make daily health recommendations for missing nutrients, etc..

    Assuming we don’t blow ourselves up first or some such natural calamity.

    1. Well, PB, I have encountered a number of poor doctors in my time. Doctors who bank on a small set of common diagnoses and throw out potential treatments one after the other to see what works rather than working harder on a diagnosis based on the symptoms and facts. Doctors who ignore the scientific method and the evidence, arrogantly insisting that they are right and that questioning a doctor is like questioning a deity. Doctors who must have barely squeaked by in medical school and have not bothered to keep up with medical developments since they graduated.

      I am an intelligent person. The opportunity to research a medical situation on websites like WebMD make me a more informed consumer and patient. I don’t go into the doctor’s office and act like a few hours of research makes me an expert. But it does help me to ask intelligent questions and discuss treatment options from a more informed basis. So I couldn’t give a damn less what medical professionals think about “…readily available online search for symptoms and treatments.”

      1. Couldn’t agree more. In fact they say you sometimes have to be your own doctor in some respects and certainly advocate. There’s also the saying “a little bit of knowledge is dangerous.” So while some people like you and me might be able to better diagnose our own problems accurately , some can’t do it as well. From what you’re saying it’s become a bit of a territorial issue as well. Someone who went 7 years to school just simply MUST be better than a guy looking up his problem on the Internet. Doctors are becoming more health traffic cops and steer us in the right direction if we’re starting to veer the wrong direction. Always good to question your doctor and many I’ve seen actively encourage it.

    1. Timely information for those with diabetes is very important. Proper interpretation is more for those of us without diabetes so that we don’t freak out when it goes just a bit haywire. We each need one or the other. Maybe both.

  2. If your motor had a faulty oil pump, so that it sometimes pushed too much oil into the engine, and sometimes too little, (I know that isn’t how a car works, but stick with me) would you want to have to pull the dipstick not just before every trip, but sometimes even in the middle of your drive, or would you like to have a meter on the dash letting you know what the state of your engine oil level is throughout the trip? If you don’t have it, and the pump goes haywire right after you checked the dipstick before continuing the final 4 hours of your trip, you just might have blown an engive. With the meter, you know immediately and can correct it before damage is done.

    CGM (meter on the dash) is extremely important for the people with a bad pancreas (oil pump). And blowing an engine here means loss of limb or even life.

    Most of our oil pumps are fine. The meter is still okay to have, so long as we don’t freak out at little fluctuations. But for those who have bad pumps, it is very beneficial to have that.

  3. Yeah, what SJBMusic said !!! I am a diabetic, presently use the (very expensive) Dexcom G5 system. It is important to have a reliable monitoring system that keeps me posted on what’s happening with my blood sugar *especially* if I have a dangerous “low” when sleeping (Dexcom wakes me up so that I may “dose” accordingly, a potential life-saver at about $500.00/month). If I had the opportunity to make a one-time purchase of an Apple Watch, I’d be saving a lot of money. The Apple expense would be a no-brainer, even if I still had to finger-stick in order to calibrate a mechanical device. I saw ‘bring it on Apple, and give me the killer-app for the Apple Watch, making it more than a fashion accessory or slight enhancement (I can leave my phone in my pocket) that I can not afford.

    1. I know you used the term metaphorically, when you said for this would be the killer app, but literally in your case (and the case of many diabetics) it would be just the opposite – the life saving app…. 😀

  4. I think you need to go back to Tim Cook’s comments where he used the data to evaluate fo0od he had been eating. That helped him loose 30 pounds.

    The average overweight American could potentially use that same information – check your levels after eating a meal, snack or big gulp soda. Get a target range from your doc, even if you don’t have diabetes and see what happens. BTW, your doc may give you a blood test called an a1C and that will tell you your average sugar levels for the last 3 months. No telling where that will lead.

    In addition to testing my sugar multiple times a day I also have the finger tip meter for PulseOx and pulse. If Apple adds the PulseOx then I can forget the meters, which I only check when short of breath.

    As for sleeping, I sleep with an autopap, which adjusts pressure throughout the night, After the first night my wife told me I would neither use it or move at least half a mile away because it was her first decent night’s sleep in years. The device stops snoring. Period.

    Living with technology is grand for me. I’ve benefitted multiple times over the past few years and look forward to future advances.

    1. Tim Cook’s experience is not applicable. Good health care is not anecdotal, it’s evidence based. Translating Tim Cook’s “healthcare choices” to all members of society has no external validity. The vast population has no comparison to the individual life of a multimillionaire.

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