The Atlantic

Smartwatches Are Changing the Purpose of the EKG

Wearables help cast the medical test as a talisman of health-care competence. An Object Lesson.
Source: Ralph Orlowski / Reuters

Updated at 11:30 a.m. ET on February 22, 2019.

Think of the stereotypical representations of medicine, as they might appear on a television show: the crisp white coat, of course, and the stethoscope dangling at the ready. Syringes and intravenous lines, maybe. An X-ray or a CT scan slammed theatrically into a light box.

But any medical scene is incomplete without an electrocardiogram (EKG) machine running in the background, its jagged line tracing across the screen reassuringly, or alarmingly to cue a dramatic threat. The EKG is the backbeat of many hospital scenes on television. Important medical things are happening here, it says.

To tap into that potent association, many private medical practices, urgent-care clinics, community hospitals, technology companies, and health-care-product designers use EKG imagery in their advertising. Most of those images bear little resemblance to actual EKG of the daytime talk show , for example) mostly amount to arbitrary peaks and valleys. They do not reflect the output of a human heart, healthy or diseased.

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