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The Apple Heart Study has changed the way we think about telemedicine.

The Apple Heart Study: The lessons we learned

At this point, most of us know that there’s a beautifully crafted smartwatch made by the tech giant – Apple. However, few of us know that this smartwatch – the Apple Watch, has already participated in groundbreaking research to identify atrial fibrillation in what is now known as the Apple Heart Study.

As a quick reminder, the investigators, under the sole sponsorship of Apple, recruited a staggering 419,279 participants in a period of 8 months only – mind you, entry requirements were being in ownership of both an Apple Watch and an iPhone. Out of 419,279 participants, 2161 were notified of an irregular pulse so, as per study protocols, they received mails of an ECG patch, but only 450 returned the ECG patches that contained data worth analyzing. 

Among the 450 returned ECG patches, atrial fibrillation was present in 34% of the total, and 35% of these were among people who were 65 years or older. Following data analysis, the analysts concluded that the probability of being notified of an irregular pulse was low. However, the story doesn’t end from here. We learned the following lessons from the pragmatic Apple Heart Study.

  • The digital revolution has made a tremendous impact on the health surveillance of individuals, that an astounding 400,000+ participants enrolled in a period of less than a year.
  • The study unveiled the power in using the most feared aspects of health – death from a stroke due to atrial fibrillation, which in turn has increased more awareness amongst the population. It is a good thing for everyone. However, whether the irregular pulse picked up by the smartwatch sensors could be significant following a low return of the analyzable ECG patches, the answers remain elusive. More studies need to be done that involve larger populations on an international scale. 
  • The world has moved so fast that a smartwatch with the capabilities of the Apple watch may become a necessity amongst those that no longer suffer from both extreme poverty and hunger, if we are to refine the powers of preventive medicine, especially in an attempt to reduce the mortality from heart attacks.
  • More concerns strike out as there’s thinning of the privacy wall for personal health data; like seriously, Apple watched and monitored over 400,000 people 24/7 remotely with data stored via cloud storage, for which we as the general population have no control over. There’s an emerging power in telemedicine that all clinicians need to take caution.
  • The Apple Heart study results put up a challenge to every one of us in the field of medicine to rethink what atrial fibrillation can achieve in terms of putting up devastating effects in terms of a stroke.

Nonetheless, the study may have opened the doors for more wearable devices being used to remotely monitor the different aspects of health in another groundbreaking research, and this may lead to earlier diagnoses of a few sinister ailments. I am personally eagerly waiting for the smartwatch/ wearable device that can notify the healthcare provider about the suicidal ideation of one of their patients – mind you, there’s a person who attempts and completes suicide every 40 seconds around the globe.



MBChB (MUK), Graduate Fellow, Department of Physiology, Makerere University Founder and Content Creator Peer reviewer, Associate Editor

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