Apple and researchers from Stanford Medicine teamed up to conduct a study on whether wearable technology can identify irregular heart rhythms that further indicate a condition. The duo finally released new results from the eight-month study, which had more than 400,000 participants. Apple Watches monitored the participant’s heart rhythm to detect signs of a medical condition called atrial fibrillation.
The results were presented this weekend at the American College of Cardiology conference in New Orleans, sparking a range of reactions from the cardiologists who attended. The discussion even went beyond the Apple Watch, mentioning the role of consumer wearables more broadly in screening and potentially diagnosing disease, as CNBC reports.
Some within the medical community believe there is much optimism as there were 419,000 participants, which is quite higher than most medical research studies. On the other hand, others expressed concern that the Apple Watch could trigger many false alarms.
Most agreed that the results were still preliminary since the full study has yet to be published in a scientific journal. More so, it was an observational study, rather than a randomized controlled trial.
Apple chose to focus on atrial fibrillation, as up to six million people in the United States are impacted by the condition, though many have yet to be diagnosed. For those over the age of 65, the condition puts them at a higher risk for health complications such as a stroke.
Since heart health is the focus for Apple’s efforts in health care, it’s important for the company to gain the support of cardiologists. In order to win over the medical community, Apple needs to open up about the pros and cons and of course, publish research in scientific journals.
“We’re trying to be thoughtful about how we introduce this in partnership with the medical community,” said Sumbul Desai, a physician and Apple’s vice president of health. “We want to hear (from doctors) about all the positives and all the negatives.”
While not all results have been published, researchers disclosed that about 0.5 percent of the approximately 419,000 people who participated in the study received a notification about an irregular heartbeat.
Stanford Medicine’s principal investigator, Mintu Turakhia, pointed to that statistic as an “important finding,” since cardiologists were concerned that the watch would lead to a high rate of false positives, sending people to the doctor’s office unnecessarily.
Out of those who did receive a notification, not all of them had followed the protocol, which asked them to contact the researchers for an electrocardiogram patch to confirm the diagnosis. Only roughly 450 did so, which is about 1 in 5.
“It’s possible that the folks who didn’t follow through were primarily those who didn’t have really bothersome symptoms,” said Kumar Dharmarajan, a cardiologist and chief scientific officer at a health insurance company, Clover Health.