Pressure Point

Samsung enables blood pressure monitoring with pulse wave analysis

Over the past few years, we’ve observed gradual progress in wearable technology that promises to monitor users’ health. Smartwatches in particular, have evolved beyond tracking basic fitness, with many mass-market devices now collecting health-related data such as heart rate, blood oxygen levels and electrocardiogram (ECG) measurements. Now it seems that the next thing feature to join the list is the ability to measure blood pressure — just ask Samsung.

Samsung recently announced that improvements to its Health Monitor app will allow people to measure and track their blood pressure when wearing the Samsung Galaxy Watch Active2, thanks to the device’s advanced sensors. Once the smartwatch has been calibrated using a traditional blood pressure cuff, it can then use pulse wave analysis, tracked with the heart-rate monitor, to sense deviations in blood pressure.

This ability has been present in the smartwatch since its launch in 2019, but until now Samsung had not advertised the feature because of a lack of clearance. However, the app has now been approved by South Korea’s Ministry of Food and Drug Safety as a Software as a Medical Device, meaning that the app and the smartwatch are suitable as an over-the-counter, cuff-less blood pressure monitoring solution.

The reasons to target this area are clear. High blood pressure is known to significantly raise the risk of heart, brain and kidney diseases, including stroke and coronary heart disease, when not managed properly. By enabling users to measure and track their blood pressure on a more casual basis, Samsung’s Health Monitor app could provide greater insight into their health, allowing them to make more-informed decisions and lead healthier lives.

Samsung’s decision to add blood pressure monitoring to its devices is the latest development in a wearables arms race to provide the most complete set of health monitoring capabilities. This isn’t the first time that regulatory approval has been given to health-tracking features: Apple’s Watch Series 4 was cleared by the US Food and Drug Administration in 2018 for its ECG and irregular rhythm notification functions, and in early 2019, Japan’s Omron got the thumbs up from the administration to begin selling its HeartGuide, a smartwatch with clinical-quality measurement abilities including blood pressure monitoring.

The demand for tools that aid well-being is clear. Our user research has shown strong appetite for health-tracking features, and the rapid proliferation of functions like ECG sensors and pulse oximeters in mass-market devices highlight how makers of wearables are reacting to this trend (see Smartwatches Are Here to Stay, With Strong Growth Expected). Given the speed of development in this space, it wouldn’t take a great deal of imagination to see blood pressure monitors becoming a staple in other devices beyond the Samsung Galaxy Watch Active2.

The Samsung Health Monitor app will be available on the Galaxy Watch Active2 in South Korea in the third quarter of 2020 and on forthcoming Galaxy Watch devices. As each country has a different set of rules when it comes to healthcare, Samsung is petitioning authorities in several territories to gain clearance, so it could take some time for the app to become available globally.

Regardless, Samsung have shown that the technology is ready, and I’d be surprised if similar sensors don’t appear in more mass-market devices in the coming months. When it comes to keeping up in the health-tracking race, the pressure is well and truly on.