Fitness trackers on an arm (© AP Images)
Fitness trackers include (from left) Fitbit Force, Jawbone Up, Fitbug Orb and the Nike FuelBand SE. (© AP Images)

What’s the future of wearable technology like the Fitbit or the Apple Watch when it comes to our health?

Your smartwatch or fitness tracker likely won’t ever replace the diagnosis of a real doctor. But researchers at Stanford Medical Center in California suggest these wearable devices may be able to give you some clues about what’s going on inside your body, sometimes before the brain gets word something’s not right.

In a study published in early 2017 in PLOS Biology, Stanford researchers decided to discover exactly what wearables might be able to do. They began by collecting a whopping 2 billion baseline measurements from a group of 60 people and entering that information into a database.

The information included data on weight; heart rate; oxygen in the blood; skin temperature; activity, including sleep, steps, walking, biking and running; calories expended; acceleration; and even exposure to gamma rays and X-rays.

Armed with all that information, and with the constant feedback from the devices, researchers said it became possible to tell when the body wasn’t working the way it should.

Start getting well, before you get sick

The senior author of the study, Stanford professor Michael Snyder, told VOA the technology to gather all of this information exists right now. “All but weight and blood oxygen can be collected from a smartwatch,” he notes. “A patch can get the blood oxygen.”

Man walking outdoors wearing a fitness tracker. (© AP Images)
Devices that track the number of steps a person takes could soon routinely do a lot more. (© AP Images)

A lot of these technologies are available right now in an experimental phase and companies and researchers are validating them, Snyder says.

That doesn’t mean you’ll be able to get one right away, but Snyder can see a day when consumers could strap on some tech and it would just grab all the data it needs all by itself.

The team says the technology also could monitor blood sugar levels, or the status of a pacemaker, and could change the world of preventive care.

“The potential of this technology is so huge,” says Jessilyn Pearl Dunn, one of the other authors of the study.