HOW stressed is your doctor? A large-scale test of wearable stress monitors, announced this week, is set to provide some answers.

Boston start-up Neumitra will test its wearable devices with 1000 or more doctors and nurses in January next year. It will measure stress levels at two of Boston’s biggest hospitals – Massachusetts General Hospital and Beth Israel Deaconess.

“Stress can impact on the common cold all the way up to a heart attack,” says Aditi Nerurkar, a stress management clinician at Beth Israel Deaconess. Although we know stress affects the health of patients, medical professionals themselves have a culture of stoicism about their health, she says.

Neumitra’s devices look like smart watches. They take physiological measurements – of heart rate, temperature, motion and skin conductance – and use an algorithm to convert the data and display it as a number from 1 to 10, with 10 being the highest stress level. They can also use colour coding: blue for low stress, red for high. The devices vibrate when your stress level increases.

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The stress monitors can sync with a smartphone calendar, colour-coding times that were particularly stressful, or mapping apps, highlighting areas in the city where you feel most stressed.

Neumitra is hoping its system will become a standard for stress measurement. It is working with companies that make smart watches and Fitbit-style fitness trackers to have them include its “Bio+” stress-measuring technology. The first such devices will be available in early 2016, says Neumitra founder Robert Goldberg.

Nerurkar hopes that tracking stress will remind medical professionals to take care of themselves, as well as their patients. “It’s time for us as doctors to recognise that we’re human first, and doctors second,” she says.

By Anna Nowogrodzki

Magazine issue 3045 published 31 October 2015

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