When people talk about Apple Watch’s ability to monitor heart rhythm, they sometimes use the phrase “life-saving.”
But is that true? New research suggests it might be.
How can the Apple Watch save your life?
Two commonly used devices allow you to monitor your heart rhythm without a prescription from a doctor. The Apple Watch and the AliveCor devices, although there are several others.
The hope for these devices to save lives is by detecting unsuspected atrial fibrillation or Afib. Afib often doesn’t cause symptoms, and it can be intermittent (meaning it can come and go), so many people have Afib but aren’t aware of it.
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And one of the most common causes of stroke is unsuspected Afib. So, the idea is if unsuspected Afib can be detected, blood thinner meds can be taken to lower stroke risk.
The idea is good.
The problem is we don’t have much evidence that it works.
But a new study shows the concept is, at least, promising.
A study of older people (average age 80 years) showed that monitoring heart rhythm (NOT with the Apple Watch in this case) increased the number of people diagnosed with unsuspected Afib ten times more than those who were not monitored. And 75% of these people went on to take blood thinner meds.
The results are important, if not unexpected. For one, it tells us our current methods for detecting Afib in people without symptoms are inadequate.
However, there are still many questions to be answered before we can say an Apple Watch - or any monitoring device - can save your life. What are the unintended consequences of these heart monitoring devices? How many false positives - meaning the device noted Afib, but it was wrong -, unnecessary worry and testing will be created? And are strokes really prevented?
These are the questions we don’t have answers to and why we can’t use the word “life-saving” when talking about these devices yet.
I’m excited about the possibilities of remote monitoring and technology in healthcare. Healthcare needs to be more accessible and affordable, and we need to become partners with our patients to promote better health. I applaud the companies that are seeking innovative ways to improve the care I deliver to my patients.
But we can’t use the phrase life-saving yet.