Samsung's New Phones Can Detect Blood Pressure, Putting Pressure on Other Companies

MARCH 04, 2018
The Samsung Galaxy S9 and 9+ will come with an optical sensor that will allow users to measure their blood pressure, without using an ancillary device.1 This is cool because no other phone has been able to do such an action in the past. 
 
Not only is this a new technology Samsung is bringing to market, but they are also working with University of California San Francisco (UCSF) researchers to expand the clinical utilization of this data. UCSF and Samsung are launching 'MY BP Lab' to help further research into the field of vitals and blood pressure monitoring and management. One aim of this collaboration is to create a feedback system for users regarding their BP and stress levels, and also expanding the contextualization of what BP measurements are in the general population.
 
Those that choose to use the My BP Lab app will be invited to participate in a 3-week study to track stress levels, emotions, and their BP as it relates the users daily wellbeing (sleep, exercise, diet). The app will launch on March 15, and I hope to see the results published in the next few years.
 
Now, this seriously throws into question a few other developments that have occurred in the past few months. First, Nokia's Digital Health division has been struggling since they acquired Withings. Withings was known for their peripheral devices that measured different vitals and health data, including blood pressure, weight, and temperature. Their Blue tooth enabled blood pressure cuff was well known, but costing users over $100, was a pricey investment. Since their acquisition, Nokia has been struggling with the market and has not seen the investment grow as much as they had hoped.
 
Inevitably, the Bluetooth-enabled device market was bound to be hampered by technological developments this decade. While an intelligent development initially, the long-term applicability was bound to diminish with technological developments. Take for instance the Kinsa smart thermometer. Originally, it was meant to tether directly to a smartphone via the earphone jack. But as Apple and other companies have moved onto strictly Bluetooth technology, they are cutting the jacks out of their devices, leaving these companies' products with no future. Yes, Kinsa just got a new Bluetooth-enabled thermometer approved by the FDA, and it will come onto market shortly, but again, for how long? 
 
Other companies that will likely feel the pain from this technology will be Omron, who is well known for selling their blood pressure cuffs on the market (and in many community pharmacies) at this point. They recently have developed a cuff that can be worn on the wrist to detect BP over the course of the day, but with this type of tech from Samsung, it could prove to be a competitor.
 
All of this also comes to a focal point with recent recommendations from the American College of Cardiology in their hypertension management guidelines. The recent recommendations push for ambulatory monitoring of BP and for patients to use remote cuffs at home. They've even put together recommendations on how clinics can store, clean, and let patients borrow them. The advent of a smartphone being able to do all this takes it to a new level and puts a damper on companies that may have seen this as a new business opportunity. What it all comes down to, is once one company (in this case Samsung) demonstrates this is possible, others will hop on board. Apple and Google probably have their proprietary tech in the works at this current time to compete.
 
Going beyond BP, Apple has been looking to expand what its Apple Watch can do in a similar process, though in different therapeutic areas. One that recently made the news was their collaboration with Cardiogram to monitor patients heart rate to detect arrhythmias.2 This is possible as the current itineration of Apple Watch can do so, but going forward there could be other possibilities. Some research is investigating whether the Apple Watch could detect diabetes.3 This does not necessarily mean blood glucose levels, but that could be a possibility eventually as well. Nonetheless, we are facing an era where smartphones could just be adjunctive health devices that replace a lot of current devices on the market, and push out traditional companies that have for years been making the same products. These companies could find themselves suddenly outpaced by companies they never thought may be competition.

References:
  1. Samsung and UCSF Introduce My BP Lab, a Smartphone App for Blood Pressure and Stress Research [news release]. Samsung Newsroom. Februaruy 26, 2018. Accessed at: https://news.samsung.com/global/samsung-and-ucsf-introduce-my-bp-lab-a-smartphone-app-for-blood-pressure-and-stress-research
  2. Lagasse J. Cardiogram launches new Apple Watch features with a view toward heart health. MobiHealthNews. July 27, 2017. Accessed at: http://www.mobihealthnews.com/content/cardiogram-launches-new-apple-watch-features-view-toward-heart-health
  3. Shaw C. Can You Trust Apple Watch’s Diabetes Reports Without Measuring Blood Sugar Level? Accessed at: http://thyblackman.com/2018/03/03/can-you-trust-apple-watchs-diabetes-reports-without-measuring-blood-sugar-level/


Timothy Aungst, PharmD
Timothy Dy Aungst, PharmD, is an assistant professor of pharmacy practice at MCPHS University. He graduated from Wilkes University Nesbitt School of Pharmacy and completed a PGY-1 Pharmacy Practice Residency at St. Luke's University Hospital, and then a Clinical Geriatric Fellowship at MCPHS University. He is passionate about the rise of technology in health care and its application to pharmacy. He has published primarily on the role of mobile technology and mHealth, and made multiple national and international presentations on those topics. He blogs at TheDigitalApothecary.com, and you can find him on Twitter @TDAungst.
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