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Largest virtual study finds value in mHealth wearables to detect atrial fibrillation

Health Industry Hub | November 15, 2019 |

The largest-ever study of a consumer-facing mHealth wearable finds that the Apple Watch can be used by clinicians to detect atrial fibrillation.

Atrial fibrillation, a type of irregular heart rhythm, is a leading cause of stroke and hospitalisation, but due to its elusive and often sporadic symptoms, the condition often goes undetected.

According to researchers at the Stanford University School of Medicine, almost 420,000 people participated in the Apple Heart Study, launched in 2017 in a partnership with Apple and American Well, the largest analysis to date of consumer-facing technology for clinical purposes. Over an eight-month span, the Apple Watch detected an irregular heart rate in 0.52 percent, or 2,161 people.

“The study’s findings will help patients and clinicians understand how devices like Apple Watch can play a role in identifying atrial fibrillation, a deadly and often undiagnosed disease,” said Mintu Turakhia, MD, associate professor of cardiovascular medicine. “Additionally, these important findings lay the foundation for further research into the use of emerging wearable technologies in clinical practice and demonstrate the unique potential of large-scale app-based studies.”

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Among participants who received notification of an irregular pulse, 34% had atrial fibrillation on subsequent ECG patch readings and 84% of notifications were concordant with atrial fibrillation.

The study also showed how digital health alerts can enhance engagement with the health care system overall. A survey of participants who received an irregular-pulse notification showed that 76% contacted either the telehealth provider or a non-study provider, suggesting that many actively sought medical attention as a result of an irregularity identified by their Apple Watch.

Dr Marco Perez, associate professor of cardiovascular medicine, is the lead author and will present the findings from the study at the American Heart Association 2019 Scientific Sessions on November 16, 2019.

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