“Wearable health technology has come a long way in recent years, especially in the diagnosis, treatment, and monitoring of patients with arrhythmias and other heart-related diseases. This article will discuss how advances in antenna and battery technology are opening up new frontiers for wearable cardiac monitoring solutions for home and inpatient use.
Wearable health technology has come a long way in recent years, especially in the diagnosis, treatment, and monitoring of patients with arrhythmias and other heart-related diseases. This article will discuss how advances in antenna and battery technology are opening up new frontiers for wearable cardiac monitoring solutions for home and inpatient use.
Beyond the treadmill
In its infancy, wearable electronics for health purposes are often limited to devices aimed at the fitness world. Wearables from Fitbit, Garmin, and even Apple are great options for anyone looking to track their heart rate to measure the intensity and effectiveness of their workouts. These devices enable individuals to obtain data about their exercise and athletic performance on their wrists, but the benefits of this data are largely limited there. Today, however, advances in sensor and power technology have opened new doors for the impact of wearables in the medical industry, especially in detecting, monitoring, and preventing heart-related health problems. This article explores some of the ways in which wearable technology can be deployed for heart health and the technological advancements that make it possible.
Back in early 2019, Apple CEO Tim Cook said in an interview with CNBC: “I believe that if you look to the future and look back, you ask the question, ‘What is Apple’s greatest contribution to humanity?’ The answer must be It’s about health.” That’s a bold statement from the computer and phone tech giant. But at this time, Cook saw the promise of the Apple Watch, a relatively nascent product that could change the face of medicine by tracking core vital signs for active health monitoring.
Carry forward on the basis of Holter monitor
The concept of wearables for heart health monitoring is not new. Holter monitors are devices that have been around for many years to continuously monitor cardiac conditions such as arrhythmias over a longer period of time than traditional ECGs. This device is useful for people with periodic arrhythmias that can make measurements in an office environment very difficult. With a Holter monitor, the patient wears a box-shaped device that is attached to electrodes attached to the chest, usually via a lanyard around the neck or a clip around the waist. However, the device, while effective, still gets in the way and looks bulky. In addition to the monitor itself, there are wires and pads to deal with. Holter monitors are of course for purposeful study of the heart, not for continuous monitoring — which is where today’s wearable technology comes in.
In the past, fitness watches had heart rate sensors that could detect the beat of the heart, but that was about it. These sensors use blinking LEDs to penetrate the skin and detect blood flow. This information is then captured by smart algorithms and used to measure heart rate, which is useful in general but not particularly accurate in medical measurements. Today, however, new sensor technologies have brought ECG capabilities to many devices, including those from Apple, Fitbit, and Samsung. These devices are equipped with more accurate ECG sensors. In fact, Fitbit claims that their ECG app software algorithm can correctly identify patients with atrial fibrillation (AFib, a disorder with an irregular and fast heart rate) 98.7 percent of the time. But does Fitbit’s claim hold up in the medical world?
According to a study published in Trends in Cardiovascular Medicine, these claims hold up unexpectedly, with the Apple Watch algorithm producing results with a sensitivity of 95.5 percent. In fact, even the U.S. Food and Drug Administration jumped in, giving the Apple Watch Category 2 FDA approval for over-the-counter ECG testing. So how do the Apple Watch and other wearables achieve these levels of precision?
Speaking of the Apple Watch, it’s helpful to review the Holter monitor. The device uses several electrodes attached to the user’s chest and connected to the monitor by wires. These wires measure the electrical impulses as the heart beats, and then record that information. However, the results must be analyzed by a medical professional to spot potential problems. What the Apple Watch does is create a single-lead ECG through the circuit between the back of the watch and the Digital Crown. This information is then processed through sophisticated algorithms that detect anomalies and provide users with notifications when they are found.
Continuous health monitoring to prevent disease
So why does this all matter? According to the same study in Trends in Cardiovascular Medicine, AFib is one of the most important contributors to heart-related disease. About 3 percent of adults have AFib, which is not only associated with increased morbidity and mortality, but also with a five-fold increased risk of stroke.
In an article published on the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) Medical website, Dr. Tom McElderry, an electrophysiologist at the UAB Cardiovascular Institute, had this to say about the promising technology:
“Wearables are especially helpful for people with infrequent episodes of arrhythmia. Our option has always been to have patients wear a prescription device that captures episodes over a 24-hour, two-week or 30-day time span. Apple Watch or The advantage of the KardiaMobile monitor is that patients have these devices, so they can monitor for any length of time to detect arrhythmias.”
In fact, the promise of wearable technology for the future of heart care is huge. By putting medical-grade technology in the hands of the masses, there is a huge opportunity to not only detect medical problems before they occur, but also to collect and analyze vast amounts of health-related data on an unprecedented scale. The future of IoT in health-related issues is very bright. With this data, coupled with modern artificial intelligence and big data processing capabilities, physicians can explore cardiac function data in entirely new ways. The future of connected healthcare solutions looks brighter than ever as connected solutions for medical needs continue to improve to meet the demands of the medtech industry.
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