Apple releases results from its largest irregular heartbeat study

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Imperfect but still promising.

That’s been the takeaway so far from observers noting the results of Apple’s massive study of irregular heartbeat, an analysis in which more than 419,000 Apple Watch users participated — and which detected signs of an irregular heartbeat, the kind of thing that could eventually lead to a stroke, in around 2,100 of those participants.

Apple had teamed up with Stanford University researchers for this screening, which the iPhone maker praised as the largest study of its kind to date.

Among the reasons it’s being seen as a success is that it largely did what it set out to do. It didn’t seem to trigger lots of false positives, in other words, or scare otherwise healthy participants into thinking they might have a problem.

Among the study’s findings: A third of the participants who got EKG monitoring through the study had atrial fibrillation — the irregular heartbeat that can lead to potentially deadly problems like blood clots and strokes. That’s according to a presentation of the study results presented at an American College of Cardiology conference in New Orleans.

“This study we believe provides very encouraging evidence that a device, the Apple Watch, can be used to detect a-fib and to point out to people when additional monitoring or testing may be needed,” said Dr. Lloyd Minor, Stanford’s dean of medicine.

In Apple’s announcement of the results, it noted that the approximately 2,100 participants who got an irregular heart rhythm notification represented half a percent of the total study participants. This means the Apple Watch irregular heartbeat detection appeared to give the right people the health information they needed. Moreover, it’s potentially changed those users’ lives, given that many of them sought medical advice and used the notification to start follow-up “meaningful” conversations with their doctors.

Dr. Richard Kovacs, of the American College of Cardiology, who wasn’t involved with the study, said he thought that the results nevertheless were still “not perfect.” There were lots of things that were supposed to happen next after study participants got an irregular heartbeat notification, like those users consulting with a doctor via a telehealth approach as well as wearing an EKG patch to measure their cardiac activity for a week to confirm the accuracy of the notification. It doesn’t appear that every user followed the order of those steps, with some users, for example, forgoing a telemedicine visit and just talking to their own doctor.

Another doctor who wasn’t involved with the study, Dr. Valentin Fuster, director of Mount Sinai Heart in New York, told the Associated Press he would like to see this feature of Apple Watch tested again, but with some new variables added to the mix — like, say, on seniors with high blood pressure.

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