Mass General, Harvard test Fitbit algorithm that spots heart abnormalities

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In a push to level with Apple Watch's cardiac achievements, Fitbit launched a study with medical researchers to test its ability to detect the common heart issue atrial fibrillation, according to an April 15 report published in the American Heart Journal.

Researchers from Boston-based Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston-based Harvard Medical School, University of Massachusetts Medical School in Worcester, the University of Connecticut in Storrs and Fitbit teamed up to conduct the study.

Six things to know:

  1. Enrollment for the study began May 6, 2020, and by Oct. 1, 455,699 participants had enrolled.

  2. The algorithm uses near-continuous photoplethysmography to assess blood volume during waves of inactivity.

  3. Participants whose Fitbit detected an irregular heartbeat were invited to attend a telehealth visit with a third-party provider.

  4. Eligible participants were mailed a single-lead electrocardiographic patch monitor to assess if the results were similar to those of the Fitbit.

  5. Additional study objectives were to examine the validity of reports and files stored in the system's tachogram — which lets users store and analyze captured Fitbit files — during sequences of heart rhythm detections.

  6. Other objectives include examining self-reported AF diagnosis, AF episode duration and time spent in AF.

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