A smartwatch saved my life: 5 notes from USA Today's interviews with patients

A growing list of examples describe smartwatches purportedly alerting users to life-threatening medical issues, according to USA Today.

Some of these medical functions are by design, as wearable brands have increasingly been moving toward the healthcare market.

Apple in late 2018 revealed plans to add an FDA-cleared electrocardiogram app into the Apple Watch Series 4, and in early 2019, the technology giant entered a partnership with Aetna to launch a wellness app, Attain. Earlier this year, Fitbit — which does not offer FDA-cleared medical devices — introduced an activity and sleep tracker that is only available through health plans or employers.

To better understand how these wearable devices influence consumer health, USA Today spoke with people who say a smartwatch saved their life, as well as health experts to discuss the emerging trend.

Five notes:

1. Deanna Recktenwald told USA Today she received a notification that read, "Seek medical attention," from her Apple Watch Series 2 in April 2018, after her resting heart rate hit 190 beats per minute. Although the Florida teenager said she didn't feel any symptoms, her mother took her to a nearby urgent care facility, where she was subsequently diagnosed with kidney failure.

2. In December 2018, an Apple Watch alerted Christina Ling that her heart rate was 150 beats per minute, despite the fact she had been sitting for 10 minutes, she told USA Today. The new Jersey resident said that after going to the hospital, she found out she had a cardiac tamponade, abnormal fluid around the heart.

3. Michael Glenn, 34, said his Fitbit alerted him in 2018 that his heart rate was 40 beats per minute, well below the normal range. His wife convinced him to go to the hospital, where he was immediately airlifted for emergency surgery — physicians found Mr. Glenn's right coronary artery was 100 percent blocked and his central artery was 80 percent blocked.

4. Today, wearables data can provide physicians with insight into daily patient behaviors — but some experts told USA Today the devices may one day be able to offer physicians clinical-grade data to help make diagnoses.

"Today, we have Apple Watches with electrocardiogram features. You can remotely create a PDF of your heart rhythm and send it directly to your doctor," Kevin McGinnis, a communications technology adviser for several national EMS associations, told USA Today.

5. Still, many health experts note activity trackers are fallible and caution patients not to rely on them for medical advice.

In January, the Apple Watch Series 4 — which automatically calls emergency services if it detects the wearer has been immobile for about a minute after a fall — reportedly caused frustration among emergency dispatch centers in some ski resort towns, after some skiers forgot to turn off the fall detection service, triggering unnecessary alerts.

"We've seen that in the past with the 'help-I've-fallen-and-I-can't-get-up' devices, the ones that elderly and housebound people tend to have," Mr. McGinnis said. "We want to avoid a lot of unfounded alert systems."

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