An Oximeter of Things?

A hand wearing a sleek pulse oximeter on its thumb with a readout of 97%.
The Wellue O2 Ring has a silicone band and stylish good looks (and sells for $179.99 on Amazon).

The pandemic is continuing to have an effect on gadgets. This is not necessarily true of assistive technology (AT), but it’s easy to see how two emerging trends could become embraced by the AT industry. In September, AT3 News and Tips noted the emerging UVC of Things: gadgets with self-sanitizing capabilities using built-in UV light technology. I’m trying to think about it the way Adrianna Mallozzi has taught me she thinks about AT innovations. What if her mouth controlled joystick could self-sanitize?

Now we’re seeing the emergence of the Oximeter of Things. This is arguably a pretty depressing response to the pandemic, that monitoring our blood oxygen saturation levels would be attractive enough for a mainstream consumer market. Certainly, wearable health monitor devices have been around for a long time and are increasingly integrated into smartphones, but this is showing signs of getting supercharged by the times we are living in.

A hand with its forefinger resting in a pulse oximeter with an LED display.
A standard fingertip pulse oximeter. This one , from SantaMedical, sells for $18.96 on Amazon. The price of these has plummeted since last spring.

I bought a pulse oximeter last spring, early in the pandemic, to feel safer living in a rural area with a spouse recovering from Pertussis as we considered the risks associated with COVID-19. A Facebook friend from childhood is now an ER physician in Manhattan and she made the suggestion on her feed (good enough for me!)  Happily, we have not had to crack it out of its package, but the idea is it lets you know if your body is having trouble getting the oxygen it needs with a reading that can be shared with a health care provider as they determine, remotely, if you are safe at home or need to seek medical attention.

There are other conditions and disabilities that can make a pulse oximeter a useful tool to have around and particularly for overnight monitoring (including COPD, asthma, pneumonia, and congenital heart defects). What’s new is now we are seeing stylish additions to the market. The Wellue O2Ring is not just wearable technology; it’s veritable cyborg jewelry. It also vibrates silently to alert its wearer of an abnormal heart rate or low oxygen level.

A watch face displays an oxygen saturation level of 96%. Behind is an image of the back of the watch showing lit infrared LEDs.
The Wyze Watch is available to pre-order for $19.99.

Then there’s Amazon’s beta product: the Wyze Watch. The site says it’s not a medical device and not intended to be used for medical purposes, but in much larger lettering it touts: “Your Blood Oxygen Level Right on Your Wrist: A drop in blood oxygen saturation is one of the earliest signs of serious health risks. A crystal glass casing and a pair of infrared LED clusters keep it measured 24/7 (….)” The watch does much more than health and fitness monitoring, integrating apps for social media and for controlling Wyze smart home gadgets.

In the end, on the other side of the pandemic, a place I sometimes get wistful about (and have been known to refer to as The Big Rock Candy Mountain), maybe we can look forward to another leap forward in attitude about disability and chronic health conditions with stylish tools that normalize health monitoring and the many needs we move through as we live and age and for the many different kinds of bodies that come into the world. This feels part of the blurring of AT and consumer tech to me, a trend that has been baked into the technology revolution over the last decade and it makes sense that a global pandemic should exert a new kind of pressure to bring us somewhere different.

A place, preferably, with “lemonade springs where the bluebird sings….”

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