Can Apple Help Your Heart?

A broad new study from Apple and Stanford School of Medicine found that the pulse sensors in Apple Watches can help detect heart rhythm disorders.  The Stanford researchers launched the “Apple Heart Study” in 2017 with funding from Apple.  With 420,000 American adults who owned an Apple Watch and an iPhone being part of the study.

Researchers used Apple Watch’s optical pulse sensor to identify irregular heartbeats (atrial fibrillation, AFib) which can increase the risk of stroke. AFib is sometimes considered one of today’s silent killers. It often goes undetected and can be intermittent, resulting in late diagnosis or even death. AFib affects somewhere between 3 million and 6 million Americans, most of them over age 65.  Any method or instrument that can reliably and accurately alert people to potential AFib problems can definitely save lives, and Stanford’s Apple Heart Study set to find out if the Apple Watch is one such device.

Key Findings from the study

Of the 419,093 participants spread across all 50 US states, Apple and Stanford say just 0.5 percent, or around 2,000, received a notification on the Watch to flag up an irregular pulse. Stanford described this as “an important finding given concerns about potential over-notification.”

One-third of the patients who received the notifications – then used a medical-grade ECG patch a week later – were found to have atrial fibrillation. Of those who received the notification, a little over half (57 percent) sought medical attention.

Final Thoughts

It’s important to recognize that no medical test is perfect.  There can be false negatives, in which the device fails to detect a real problem, and false positives, in which it wrongly detects a problem that doesn’t exist.  What we do know is that we are in the middle of an overwhelming rush to embrace new technology and make health data available to everyone. Apple and other technology companies are laying the groundwork for this expansion.

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