The researchers employed around 400,000 patients who had Apple Watch for over eight months. Apple says more than half of participants in the study sought medical advice following their irregular rhythm notification. Hence, proving that passive monitoring like this can be beneficial. 34% of those notified were found to have atrial fibrillation on subsequent ECG patch readings, however, 84% of the notifications were concordant with the condition. This was particularly true among the younger participants.
The researchers noted repeatedly that they did not intend to prove that the Apple Watch could be a screening tool for health conditions in large populations.
Apple's Heart Study, which officially kicked off in 2017, is an initiative aimed at determining whether or not the Apple Watch can effectively detect AFib.
The results of the study was promising but convincing cardiologists remains a task as using wearables to detect signs of atrial fibrillation isn't scientifically 100% reliable.
The condition increases with age, and the most common risk factor is high blood pressure.
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"We just don't understand atrial fibrillation well in the 35-year-old, otherwise healthy person", said Jeff Wessler, a cardiologist based in NY, who is also the founder of the Heartbeat cardiology clinics. "These are people who may stand to benefit from knowing their condition", he says, since they could then take preventive measures or get treatment to stability their abnormal heart rate.
To further examine the association between height and Afib, the research team leveraged data from the Genetic Investigation of Anthropometric Trials (GIANT) consortium, which studied more than 700,000 individuals to identify genetic variants associated with height. In this case, the Apple Heart Study app was available for anyone to download via the App Store, and use if they were a USA resident and over the age of 22. That's a group that is at a lower risk of AFib than other users.
"Too many people in the study and in many clinics with atrial fibrillation aren't doing much or anything about it", notes Venk Murthy, a cardiologist at the University of Michigan Frankel Cardiovascular Center.
"These analyses show how we can use human genetics to help us better understand causal risk factors for common disease", said the study's senior author Scott Damrauer.
It's one of the goals of digital medicine: you wear a device on your wrist that constantly monitors aspects of your health, and if anything is off, it sends you an alert. For one, the study's completely virtual nature eliminated the need for patients to be physically present and allowed for the implementation of a massive recruitment strategy in a relatively short period of time.