It’s a good news/bad news story. According to a tweet by a cardiologist, a patient used data from his Apple Watch to track his heartbeat because he was experiencing dizziness. The watch data showed episodes of very fast and very slow heart rates. The patient searched using Google, came up with a diagnosis, and contacted his cardiologist to request a consultation and that he implant a wireless pacemaker. The cardiologist concurred with the diagnosis, and the patient received the pacemaker on an out-patient basis.
That’s a good story, right? The patient was able to identify a potentially life-threatening health condition, bring it to the attention of a healthcare professional, and get treatment that presumably was at much lower total cost than if the patient had waited for more serious symptoms that could have involved emergency personnel and hospitalization. The wearable Health Tech device did its job, capturing valuable information that was used to make a treatment decision. Good news, right?
Maneesh Juneja is a blogger with a different take on this story, as he wrote in a post for iMedicalApps. As he points out, the patient’s self-diagnosis was based on “a combination of data from a device that hasn’t been clinically validated and information from a Google search.” In this case, the results had a happy ending. But what if the watch failed to provide accurate data? What if that data pointed to a different problem, or perhaps no problem at all? I have not seen much evidence about the accuracy of consumer wearable devices in general, but the few studies that I’ve seen for fitness trackers indicates that they are far from the standards required for clinical devices. As a result, we run the risk of false positives that can lead consumers to demand medical attention when there may not be a problem. And perhaps worse, we may have false negatives that lead consumers to forego consulting healthcare professionals, leading to more serious conditions that have more expensive consequences.
As we move forward in this exciting new field, we need to keep data accuracy and security at the top of the list of concerns. Without both of these, the data collected by wearable Health Tech devices will be far less useful.