“It’s show time”. The slogan printed on Apple’s media invites for its latest product launch, expecting to take place today (25 March) at 10 am Pacific Time. Rumour said this ought to be the most significant event at Cupertino since the debut of iPhone as Apple plans to officially takes on Netflix and venture into video streaming and subscription TV service. 

Nevertheless, this is definitely not Apple’s first move away from its smartphone business. A week ago, the company released findings which showed its latest wearable might be capable of performing basic medical screening. Known as the Apple Heart Study, Apple had collaborated with Stanford University School of Medicine, to learn if the two applications embedded in Apple Watch are able to capture the risks of adverse heart conditions in healthy individuals. 

The unusual study 

The two targeted applications were ECG app, which is responsible for taking electrocardiogram from the user’s wrist and the irregular rhythm notification, which identifies episodes of atrial fibrillation. Both features are approved by US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and supported by the American Heart Association. The study took place before the new Apple Watch series 4 was unveiled.

About 419,093 Apple Watch users had signed up for this 15-month long study. Of which, according to the result presented at the recent American College of Cardiology (ACC)’s 68thannual scientific session and expo in New Orleans, 2100 participants were notified to seek medical attention. These alerted users were given a choice to consult their own doctors or to receive a digital consultation They were also given proper ECG patch to capture a separate recording. 

34% of the participants were eventually diagnosed with atrial fibrillation, a leading cause for stroke and hospitalization in US. Researchers believe the study is a milestone to determine if wearables truly aid in preventive medicine; to intercept undiagnosed health issues before it strikes. Apple had asserted that although the study yielded some positive results, users should not see Apple Watch as a diagnostic tool. There are more complex and accurate instruments available in formal medical setting shall the need arise.

It’s still too early to make sensible judgement 

On the other hand, some experts argued that there is insufficient evidence to show the benefits outweigh harm especially for individuals who are not experiencing any symptoms. At the worst case scenario, incidents of false positive may occur, leading to unnecessary concern or treatment. A classic case of data overload. 

There is also a concern arising from Apple Watch users. Cardiologist assumed those who are using the device might already be health-conscious or relatively fit. Whereas those who really would benefit from an atrial fibrillation screening are perhaps older, less tech-savvy or less health-conscious. This suggests that the applications might have been built using a non-entirely representative data. Ultimately, the advice given by cardiologist is not to smoke, exercise regularly and keep track of one’s blood pressure. If all these are achieved and individuals do not face with any symptoms, perhaps it’s negligible to have an in-built ECG. 

What is your thought on this? Let us know by commenting below. Keep an eye on our upcoming AIMed Cardiology between 17 and 18 June at Ritz-Carlton, Chicago, as we continue our discussions on artificial intelligence (AI) and new technology’s impact on Cardiology. 

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Hazel Tang

A science writer with data background and an interest in current affair, culture and arts; a no-med from an (almost) all-med family. Follow on Twitter.