Apple released an app last week that will enable it to test the Apple Watch’s ability to track irregular heart rhythms as part of a study done in collaboration with Stanford University researchers.
A key aspect of the app is its ability to detect irregular heartbeats—a condition known as atrial fibrillation (a-fib) that often goes unnoticed and can lead to strokes. Anyone 22 and older with an Apple Watch will be able to participate and choose to wirelessly share their heart data with Apple and researchers at the Stanford University School of Medicine.
The study will combine the watch’s LED lights, which monitor blood flow through the wrist and already were able to measure heart rate, with the app’s software algorithm that can detect irregular rhythms. If there is an issue, participants will be notified and given a free consultation with a study doctor as well as an electrocardiogram patch that adheres to the skin for more monitoring.
I have had multiple episodes of a-fib for the past 25 years, having to go through a cardioversion perhaps half a dozen times. (A cardioversion is a procedure where the patient is shocked back into rhythm using paddles.)
Ever since that first a-fib episode, I almost always wear a heart rate monitor when I exercise. I use a Polar chest strap, and pair it with the Polar app on my smart phone. From what I have read, the Polar heart strap is the gold standard of personal hear monitoring devices. It offers continuous, real-time, and accurate measurement of your heart rate.
That’s why I was quite excited when I heard about the first Apple Watch a few years ago. There was talk that you would be able to use the sensors on the watch to track your heart rate in real time; no need to wear the heart strap. And the info would be displayed right on the watch itself. That would certainly be more convenient compared to my current setup.
But the biggest issue is the accuracy of the heart-rate monitoring itself on the Apple Watch. I’ve read a few things about the watch, and that is a common theme in most of the articles I’ve read on the topic.
As a result, I’ve postponed buying an Apple Watch until this capability improves. Perhaps this new study will push Apple into refining the heart rate accuracy of its watches.
And finding success with heart monitoring could push Apple and others into developing other health monitoring devices, with applications for tracking glucose, blood pressure, epileptic seizures, and chronic pain.
It should come as no surprise that Apple would try to gain a foothold in the health care field, a $3.2 trillion industry in the U.S.
So as I noted in the title, if Apple can improve the heart rate accuracy of its watches, I’d buy one in a heartbeat…