That new Apple Watch EKG feature? There are more downs than ups

Oct. 9, 2018

The newest version of the Apple Watch will feature a heart monitor app that can do a form of an electrocardiogram. Many have greeted this announcement as a great leap forward for health. The president of the American Heart Association even took part in the product launch.

For a more measured response, it’s worth looking at potential downsides, and it turns out there are a few.

The upside potential is twofold. First, doctors could monitor—at a distance—how patients with known heart problems are functioning outside the office. Second, the device could diagnose heart problems in people who don’t know they have them, picking up abnormal heart rhythms earlier than would otherwise be possible.

With respect to monitoring from a doctor, the Food and Drug Administration “cleared” the app—an easier hurdle to surmount than “approval.” But it specifically said people with diagnosed atrial fibrillation, one of the most common heart arrhythmias, should not be using the app.

If that’s the case, the major potential for the device—which will arrive later this year—is to pick up arrhythmias in otherwise healthy people. That’s still a big selling point. Picking up abnormal function earlier could theoretically lead to improvements in health, such as reductions in strokes.

But just because something seems like a good idea doesn’t mean it is. No screening test is perfect. In the simplest sense, whenever we consider the results of medical tests, they can be “positive” or “negative.”

In general, we would like people who are sick to have a positive screening result, and people who are well to have a negative result. Unfortunately, people who are sick sometimes have a negative result. Those are false negatives. People who are well sometimes have a positive result. Those are false positives.

Both of these outcomes are worrisome. A false negative might leave someone who needs medical help with a mistaken sense of assurance. Given that relatively few people have serious, undiagnosed arrhythmias with no symptoms (if people did, we would be screening for this more often), this isn’t the major concern. False positives are, because they cost us time and money, as well as cause emotional distress.

The New York Times has the full story

Sponsored Recommendations

A Cyber Shield for Healthcare: Exploring HHS's $1.3 Billion Security Initiative

Unlock the Future of Healthcare Cybersecurity with Erik Decker, Co-Chair of the HHS 405(d) workgroup! Don't miss this opportunity to gain invaluable knowledge from a seasoned ...

Enhancing Remote Radiology: How Zero Trust Access Revolutionizes Healthcare Connectivity

This content details how a cloud-enabled zero trust architecture ensures high performance, compliance, and scalability, overcoming the limitations of traditional VPN solutions...

Spotlight on Artificial Intelligence

Unlock the potential of AI in our latest series. Discover how AI is revolutionizing clinical decision support, improving workflow efficiency, and transforming medical documentation...

Beyond the VPN: Zero Trust Access for a Healthcare Hybrid Work Environment

This whitepaper explores how a cloud-enabled zero trust architecture ensures secure, least privileged access to applications, meeting regulatory requirements and enhancing user...