Apple Watch, Wearables, and Heart Rhythm: where do we stand?
Atrial fibrillation (AF) poses a major health concern in the United States by affecting over 5 million people accounting for at least 15% to 25% of strokes. It can be asymptomatic or subclinical with its first presentation being stroke in 18%, and AF being only detected at the time of stroke. With evidence of subclinical AF associated with increased risk of ischemic stroke, recent developments indeed point towards wearables, especially smart watches, being quite effective and representing a novel method for screening for silent AF in the general population, and thereby reducing mortality and morbidity associated with it. This manuscript aims to review whether the photoplethysmography (PPG) technology, employed in the wearables to monitor heart rate, is accurate enough to aid in the diagnosis of AF that may remain asymptomatic or paroxysmal. It also explores the option of actually employing this method in the general population, the feasibility of this mode of diagnosis, sensitivity and specificity of this method compared to the conventional electrocardiogram (EKG), and the actual follow up with a practitioner and subsequent treatment of AF, if diagnosed. We conducted a Medline search using various combinations of “smart watch” “atrial fibrillation” “wearables”, and “Kardia” to identify pivotal randomized trials published before June 1, 2019, for inclusion in this review. Concurrently, major practice guidelines, trial bibliographies, and pertinent reviews were examined to ensure inclusion of relevant trials. A consensus among the authors was used to choose items for narrative inclusion. The following section reviews data from pivotal trials to determine the effectiveness of smart watch technology in detecting AF in the general population. Trials reviewed evaluated apple watch, Kardia, Samsung wearables in diagnosis of AF. The fact that there is an increase in consumer use of wearables, smart devices, which can serve as health monitoring devices that can be used as a non-invasive, ambulatory assessment of heart rate and rhythm, is definitely novel. Intermittent short EKG recordings repeated over a longer-term period produced significantly better sensitivity for AF detection, with 4 times as many cases diagnosed compared with a single time-point measurement. Since there are limitations and further research into this new field is required, the wearable technology may not serve as the ultimate tool for diagnosis of AF, rather a nidus for the general population to seek medical advice for confirmation on being notified of having an irregular rhythm leading to prevention of morbidity and mortality associated with it.