Just as the mobile phone has become a supercomputer internet companion, the digital watch appears to be transforming into a digital doctor that can track and monitor your body system.
Already, the activity, heart rate, and accelerometer provide a wealth of information for driving behavioral change and exercise progression, but what about detecting signs of illness?
Detecting abnormal heart rates and rhythms in patients is a common task for physicians, who often use a selection of expensive accessories such as Holter monitors, event records, and implantable loop recorders to figure it out. What if I told you that your smartwatch might screen with no effort or cost on your part? It appears that for AF, the Apple Watch may accurately detect this, which is a big deal as AF is the most common cause of stroke.
This new study uses software and hardware, Cardiogram for Apple Watch app and the smartwatch’s photoplethysmographic sensors in combination with a deep learning algorithm respectively, to accurately detect atrial fibrillation in 51 patients with AF undergoing cardioversion.
The beauty is that this “watch’ is on your wrist most of the time, and thus could accrue important information about your heart rate and rhythm. Having this information can not only warn you of the risk for a possible future stroke, but also of an impending MI.
And with newer 4G watches arriving, this might mean that your provider or the nearest emergency facility could be notified in real time with your rhythm strip, and if the heart rate or rhythm is significantly abnormal and/or life threatening, the watch could instruct you to seek medical advice, or dispatch EMS to your GPS-determined location. And you may even be able to FaceTime your physician in an instant so they can triage you appropriately. With such technology, science fiction is becoming our new reality.
What other sensors is the Apple Watch primed for? A blood oxygen meter to measure the oxygen saturation of your blood, blood glucose monitors to track diabetics, blood count to detect anemia, and full vital signs. Consider a fully loaded watch with medical, health, wellness, fitness sensors, devices and applications — this may help prevent, diagnose, and manage disease, as well as monitor recovery in the user. This could ultimately be an extension of your medical record and history, providing your physician with an accurate history of abnormal body system function, as well as monitoring treatment and recovery. Stay tuned.
They say the eyes are the window to the soul. Perhaps in the future, your electronic watch will be the window to your health.
John P. Higgins, MD, MBA
Associate Professor of Medicine
The McGovern Medical School at UTHealth, Houston
Sports Cardiologist, Rice University Athletics and the Houston Rockets
Disclosures: Higgins reports no relevant financial disclosures.