An Apple Watch won’t keep the doctor away
Baptist heart doctors weigh in on new device’s claims of health benefits.
Since its debut in 2015, the Apple Watch has made it easy for people to monitor and track their fitness, get notifications and perform other functions while freeing them from their cell phones.
Now, Apple has announced its new Series 4 watch, which offers new health sensors and apps that include a one-lead electrocardiogram (ECG) monitor. Apple got clearance for the ECG app from the Food and Drug Administration.
Apple says the ECG capability can detect atrial fibrillation (also known as AFib), a disorder that causes the upper chambers of the heart to beat in a sporadic, rapid or uncontrolled manner. Not life-threatening on its own, the disorder should be treated to control symptoms and prevent future cardiovascular complications like stroke.
While Carlos Zamora, MD, a cardiologist with Baptist Heart Specialists, believes the new device could have some benefit for people with heart rhythm disorders, he stresses that it’s not a diagnostic tool. While it can detect an irregular heartbeat, it can’t tell whether it’s AFib or just too much caffeine.
“The greatest potential benefit of a wearable device like the new Apple watch is that you could potentially find out about more people who have undiagnosed heart rhythm conditions, which means they could be treated that much earlier,” said Dr. Zamora. “But it certainly doesn’t trump a doctor’s diagnosis and care.”
Baptist Heart Specialists electrophysiologist Aaditya Vora, MD, said he would like to see how the watch works for a little bit and what the real-life experiences are. While he finds the new technology’s capabilities intriguing, he and Dr. Zamora are concerned the device could trigger false alarms.
“This watch is naturally going to be attractive to younger, healthier, more tech-savvy people instead of the people who would benefit the most: those with a known condition like Afib, who tend to be older,” he said. “No matter what the device’s results are, they will have to be confirmed by a physician. That means people who may really have no need to seek medical attention will be seeking it, and if things look uncertain, it will lead to more tests. We always want to be careful about overdiagnosing people with any kind of electrical heart condition like arrhythmia.”
Still, both doctors are glad the new Apple Watch and other technology is bringing awareness to heart rhythm conditions such as AFib. “Devices like this have exciting new capabilities for people who like to monitor their health on their own,” said Dr. Vora. “There are other apps out there that offer one-lead ECG capability, including one I recommend to some of my patients called Kardia. These apps are much less expensive than the new device, which has a starting price of $399 for the watch.”
Dr. Zamora said “It’s good technology but not everyone will have access to it, so it’s good that people are aware of the symptoms of AFib so they stay in regular communication with their health care providers and get recommended check-ups."
If you are concerned you have an irregular heartbeat and need a cardiologist, or for more information about heart conditions, please visit baptistjax.com/heart.