Remember the Apple Watch that helped save a teenage athlete’s life? Well, now it’s the Fitbit‘s turn to make such a sensational news. A Fitbit Charge HR’s heart rate monitor data was used by a doctor to determine it was safe, in fact critical, to reset a man’s heart rate using electrical cardioversion. While it still remains pretty much the exception rather than the norm, it does show the growing sophistication of such fitness-equipped wearables to the point that they can provide essential information that could help save people’s lives.
A 42-year old man from New Jersey showed up at the Our Lady of Lourdes Medical Center in Camden 20 minutes after he experienced what would later be determined as a seizure. The medical team noticed his fast and irregular heartbeat though wasn’t able to immediately determine whether it was chronic or induced by the seizure.
The distinction between the two is critical in applying a remedy, particularly an electrical cardioversion that is used to reset the heart rate back to normal. If the arterial fibrilation (the irregularity) was chronic in nature, a cardioversion would dislodge an appendage clot and send it up the aorta, potentially causing a stroke. On the other hand, failing to do cardioversion at the right time could also lead to a stroke.
Seeing the Fitbit Charge HR and discovering it was syncing data to an iPhone, the clinical team reviewed the data and was able to confirm that the case was indeed caused by a seizure. The electrical cardioversion was applied, saving the man from further complications.
Like the Apple Watch incident last September, the situation involved a use case not originally intended for wearables. Although health workers do recommend the use of devices more for monitoring activity and general well-being. This is the first time such a device was used to make a critical medical decision. In the case of the Apple Watch incident, the school nurse only decided to take Paul Houle Jr. to the hospital only after confirming the Apple Watch’s heart rate data. It is, indeed, encouraging to see more of these devices becoming more useful beyond activity tracking but, of course, they don’t replace professional medical assessment.