Atrial fibrillation (AF), a condition characterized by abnormal, fast heart beats, affects an estimated five million people in the U.S alone. If it goes undiagnosed, AF can lead to a number of health complications, including stroke. In most cases, screening and diagnosing AF usually involves tools like 12-lead electrocardiogram (ECG) or pulse palpitations.
The increased proliferation of wearable devices has offered potential as a convenient, alternative option for people to monitor for and detect atrial fibrillation, especially on a larger, population-based scale. The ability to provide continuous data about heart beats is especially promising. However, it remains unclear whether the use of these devices is cost effective or able to accurately diagnose people with suspected AF.
Researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital conducted a simulation trial in an attempt to compare both cost and clinical outcomes of different methods of screening for atrial fibrillation, including wearable devices. Findings from the study are published in JAMA Health Forum.
The simulation looked at eight different screening approaches: six that used wearable wrist devices and two that used traditional ECG and pulse palpation methods. The approaches using wearable devices used technology commonly found in devices like Apple watches (photoplethysmography and ECG, specifically).
The simulation focused on a roughly 30-million-person group (all ages 65 and older) to test the economic and health benefits to each screen strategy. By and large, researchers found that wrist-worn devices were more economically advantageous compared to traditional methods, or no screening method at all. Devices using photoplethysmography technology were the most economically advantageous. The second and third most advantageous were wearable tech using ECG technology and a monitoring patch, respectively.
The research team also noted in their simulation that the use of wrist-worn devices also reduced the occurrence of stroke.
Ultimately, researchers note that their findings support the use of wearable wrist devices in screening programs for AF, suggesting they could even be used for populations younger than 65 (the recommended screening age).