It's not just Apple: Withings, formerly Nokia Health, adds EKG to smartwatch

Apple shook up the digital health world in September when it announced the newest Apple Watch would offer a direct-to-consumer electrocardiogram app. Now, it looks like the Cupertino, Calif.-based tech giant has some competition.

Withings, formerly Nokia's digital health business, unveiled its newest hybrid smartwatch Jan. 6 ahead of the 2019 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. CES, which takes place Jan. 8-11, is one of the largest consumer technology conferences worldwide.

The "Move ECG" smartwatch is the first analog smartwatch to enable users to record a "medical-grade" EKG, according to Withings, earning it a CES Innovation Award in the wearable technologies category this year. With the new feature, users can take an EKG at any time to screen themselves for signs of atrial fibrillation, the most common type of irregular heartbeat. Between 2.7 and 6.1 million people in the U.S. have atrial fibrillation, according to the CDC.

"The ability for people to take an ECG in real-time as they experience a symptom such as palpitation or shortness of breath makes the Withings Move ECG a game changer," said Eric Carreel, PhD, president of Withings. "With Move ECG we have created a cardiovascular early warning system that can be worn every day, can capture and record cardiovascular events as they occur, and help reduce the risks of heart disease."

Withings plans to make its new smartwatch available in the second quarter of 2019 for $129.95. The Apple Watch Series 4, by comparison, is upwards of $300. However, unlike the newest Apple Watch — which has already received the FDA clearance for the EKG sensor — the FDA is still reviewing Withings' Move ECG.

Withings and Apple have argued these types of on-demand EKG features will help flag patients with atrial fibrillation, a condition that often goes undiagnosed since its symptoms often aren't visible. However, some health experts have raised concerns routine screening of a mostly healthy population will result in potential misdiagnosis or overtreatment.

"Knowing minute-to-minute heart rate variations in [intensive care unit] patients is sometimes useful," Bob Wachter, MD, chair of the department of medicine at UCSF Medicine in San Francisco, wrote on Twitter after Apple's EKG announcement in September. "Whether it is in healthy 30-year-olds is an unproven hypothesis and should be tested. Likely to be tons of false positives, which will drive anxiety and some overtreatment."

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