When a 42-year-old man recently walked into the emergency room at Our Lady of Lourdes Medical Center, he had no idea that his fitness tracker data would help save his life.
A case study published in the Annals of Emergency Medicine tells the story: a patient came into the ER after a seizure. He didn’t recognize his heart was racing — which is a problem. As reported by NPR, a patient with an increased heart rate “is at an increased risk of having a stroke.”
The emergency room staff faced a dilemma. Since the patient was not experiencing any tell-tale symptoms at the time, the ER staff wasn't able to reliably determine when his abnormal heart rate began. If the patient’s heart rate had been abnormal for more than 48 hours, he would have to get admitted to the hospital, receive a specific type of medication, and potentially undergo surgery.
The ER staff had to act quickly — and that’s when they noticed the patient’s activity tracker, the Fitbit Charge HR.
A Closer Look At The Heart
This isn't the first time that activity monitors have made headlines. Earlier this year, a Fitbit captured the exact moment a man felt heartbreak; another alerted a student that she had a serious heart condition. But according to the authors of the New Jersey patient’s case study, “this is the first report to use the information in an activity tracker-smartphone system to assist in specific medical decisionmaking.”
Here’s what that means: when doctors checked the heart rate data recorded on the patient’s phone, they realized that his abnormal heart rate had begun two hours before he arrived to the ER. With that in mind, they were safely able to shock the patient’s heart back into a normal rhythm. The doctors even checked his smartphone after the procedure — the activity tracker had “accurately recorded the change in pulse rate consistent with a rhythm change” from abnormal to normal.
How Accurate Is Fitbit Charge HR?
This man’s Fitbit data helped his doctors in the ER, but don’t expect the Fitbit Charge HR to be considered an approved medical device — the accuracy of activity monitors is still questionable. And even though a Fitbit can help with decision-making and lifestyle planning, it won't replace the more accurate readings of an electrocardiogram.
At the same time, wearable technology can potentially provide clinicians with objective information before meeting with their patients. As the case study’s writers explain, referencing an activity tracker can “not only correlate symptoms with pulse rates, but also document the onset duration of an abnormally high or low rate.” In other words, an activity tracker could help doctors identify recent heart rate changes — and use that information in their approach to treatment.
As fitness trackers become more accurate, we may see their data become more integrated with health care services. For now, make sure you keep an eye on your Fitbit data: it could save your life.