Atrial fibrillation (AFib) is a common chronic heart condition characterized by an irregular heartbeat. According to CDC, about six million people in the U.S. have AFib; one in three will experience a stroke and one in four will have heart failure. Early diagnosis and treatment can help lower the odds of a negative complication, but about one third of all cases remain undiagnosed. Part of the problem is that the symptoms can be intermittent, making it difficult to “catch” the irregular heartbeats during a standard ECG session.

A new study by the Jannsen Pharmaceutical Companies of Johnson & Johnson was conducted in collaboration with Scripps Translational Science Institute (STSI), Aetna, and iRhythm Technologies. More than 1,700 subjects were enrolled in the experimental group and wore a ZIO patch from iRhythm for 14 days. The control group had twice as many subjects, who received routine care including regular visits to their primary care physician. At the end of a year, subjects in the experimental group were diagnosed with AFib at nearly three times the rate of the control group (6.3% compared with 2.3%). The patches were far more effective at “catching” the irregular heartbeats than the traditional treatment, leading to quicker treatment.

Wearable devices such as this ECG patch are able to gather more information about patients over time, which is more useful than the “snapshots” taking in typical clinical settings. This data is not only helpful to the individual patient, but also creates datasets that can be mined to uncover trends and correlations that could lead to even better and earlier diagnoses of medical conditions.