Cardiologists remain skeptical about Apple Watch atrial fibrillation feature despite positive study results

In partnership with Stanford (Calif.) University School of Medicine, Apple published Nov. 13 a new study indicating its Apple Watch can safely detect heart irregularities.

Stanford and Apple launched a study in November 2017 to determine if the software in its Apple Watch could identify atrial fibrillation. More than 400,000 participants enrolled in the eight-month study. To participate, individuals had to have an Apple Watch and an iPhone.

Apple's software would intermittently check users' heart rate through the pulse sensor. If an irregularity was detected, participants received a notification and were asked to schedule a telehealth appointment with a physician. From there, participants were given electrocardiography patches to record their heart rhythm for up to a week.

During the study period, 0.52 percent of patients were notified of irregulates in their heart rhythm. Of the patients who received the ECG patch, 34 percent were diagnosed with atrial fibrillation. Between the irregular pulse detection and the ECG patch, Apple's software had an 84 percent positive predictive value.

Additionally, around 76 percent of participants who received notifications of irregular heart rhythms contacted a telehealth provider or non-study provider.

However, not all cardiologists are confident in the Apple Watch's ability to monitor for signs of atrial fibrillation, according to CNBC.

"We just don't understand atrial fibrillation well in the 35-year-old, otherwise healthy person," Jeff Wessler, MD, a cardiologist in New York, told CNBC.

Dr. Wessler is treating patients who visit him based on the data gathered from their Apple Watch. He said technology is advancing faster than what the healthcare community can keep up with. Dr. Wessler suggests Apple conduct follow-up studies that target patient populations that are the most at-risk for atrial fibrillation.

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