Wearable technology can help patients in their health journeys

Wearable technology can help patients in their health journeys

Wearable technology can help patients in their health journeys

PHOTO: SHUTTERSTOCK

Wearing a fitness tracker can do much more than help you count your steps—it can help you get to know your heart better.

Dr. Mehak Dhande, a cardiologist at the University of Pittsburgh Physicians, Department of Cardiology, says the data available from a wearable device, whether it’s a Fitbit, Apple Watch or many other devices, includes a person’s baseline heart rate, heart rate variability , their respiratory rate and stress levels.

“The amount of data available is really, really huge,” she says.

“The good parts of it are heart rate, physical activity, step count…that data is very useful for knowing your health trends, how much you’ve walked, what activity you’ve been doing,” she says, noting that it also are good motivational tools for people to seek more exercise. “To be more involved and engaged with your own health, I think from that perspective the data is very helpful.”

Dhande says patients can become alarmed if their device detects an irregularity, but because the devices are not medical, they don’t have the final say. The ultimate gold standard is to still talk to your healthcare provider. “But these devices can definitely be a first step to understanding your own health,” she says.

“How much of it is applicable and in what ways, that’s where the real caution comes in … You don’t want to overdiagnose people who don’t have the disease.” You don’t want to overburden the health care system.”

Dhande says that in general, if her patients tell her that the devices motivate them to stay healthy, that’s fantastic.

“In that case, literally and figuratively, take your wearable and run with it,” she says.

Dr. Amit Tosani, director of cardiac electrophysiology for AHN and vice chair of the AHN Cardiovascular Institute, uses the data generated by wearable devices in his research on heart rhythm disorders. It could be a game changer, he says.

He is working with the Allegheny Singer Research Institute, which is the second lead enrollment site in a randomized controlled trial called REACT-AF, which stands for Rhythm Evaluation for Anticoagulation with Continuous Monitoring of Atrial Fibrillation.

The study, sponsored by the National Institutes of Health, followed 5,500 patients with atrial fibrillation, the most common form of arrhythmia — or irregular heart rhythm — in the United States. Half of the patients are given an Apple Watch, which can monitor whether the patient is in atrial fibrillation or has a normal heart rhythm at any given time. Patients who do well are told to stop taking blood thinners (a common treatment for the condition) and continue to be monitored with their device in the hope that patients may not need as many blood thinners.

“I really think the efforts we’re a part of will potentially make a remarkable difference in the way we care for patients,” he says.

Before smart devices, any attempt at long-term or continuous heart rhythm monitoring required the patient to get a prescription, wear a monitor that was often cumbersome, and mail the device to their doctor for analysis.

“Millions and millions of people now have a smartwatch, an Apple Watch, a Samsung Galaxy Watch, etc. etc., and when they have certain symptoms or even in the absence of symptoms, these devices can notify patients directly,” Tossani says. “Our patients can then record and store a trace of their heart rhythm, which they can then bring to us for review.

“I think the current technology available is very promising for potentially personalizing patient care,” he says. “We are excited to be a part of this effort.”

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