ER physicians used patient's fitness tracker to identify exact start of heart arrhythmia

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Personal fitness trackers can do more than keep track of an individual's steps and calories burned for a day. In some cases, the data they collect may help physicians make clinical decisions at the point of care, as evidenced by a case study shared in Annals of Emergency Medicine.

A 42-year-old man arrived at the emergency department at Our Lady of Lourdes Medical Center in Camden, N.J., after having a seizure. The patient's physical examination was normal overall, with the exception of an irregular heart rate and a slightly depressed mental status. His mental status was believed to be related to coming out of a depressed mental state that followed the seizure.

At Our Lady of Lourdes Medical Center, standard emergency department procedure for recent-onset irregular heartbeat is electrocardioversion for any patient who can reliably say the arrhythmia began less than 48 hours ago, but since the patient was asymptomatic during the atrial fibrillation event, physicians were unable to determine when the arrhythmia began.

However, the patient was wearing an activity tracker on his wrist that synced to his smartphone. The activity tracker recorded the patient's pulse, and displayed the time of his arrhythmia onset. Upon seeing the arrhythmia occurred within 48 hours of presenting to the ED, physicians deemed electrocardioversion was appropriate.

Following the cardioversion, physicians checked the data collected from the activity tracker to determine the patient's pulse had returned to its baseline.

The authors of the case study suggest personal activity trackers that measure a person's pulse may be a tool in guiding clinical decisions. However, they say that since activity trackers are not considered approved medical devices, using information collected from them to make clinical decisions is at the clinician's discretion.

"The increased use of these devices has the potential to provide clinicians with objective clinical information before the actual patient encounter," the authors write.

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