A man’s Fitbit device turned out to be much more than a smart pedometer. After a 42-year-old New Jersey man had a seizure at work one day, doctors in the emergency room used his Fitbit Charge HR to understand his heart rate history and decide how best to treat him.
Upon arrival at Our Lady of Lourdes Medical Center in Camden, doctors noticed the man had atrial fibrillation, or an irregular, rapid heartbeat. However, they weren’t sure if it was a chronic condition or if it was caused by the attack itself. Knowing this detail would determine how the doctors might treat the patient: If the arrhythmia was caused by the seizure, they could electrically cardiovert the patient to relieve it. If it were chronic, the cardioversion could potentially cause a stroke. A stroke can also occur if the arrhythmia is left untreated.
That’s where the man’s Fitbit Charge HR came into play. The doctors went to the Fitbit app on his smartphone and found his average heart rate as recorded during his fitness program. “[It] revealed a baseline pulse rate between 70 and 80 beats/min, with an immediate sustained increase to a range of 140 to 160 beats per minute at the patient’s estimated time of attack. The pulse rate remained elevated until diltiazem was administered in the field,’ researchers write in the report now appearing in the journal. Annals of Emergency Medicine.
The information from the Fitbit allowed doctors to perform electrocardioversion, since the arrhythmia was caused by the seizure. This is quite a lot, as it is the first time in history that a fitness tracker supported a medical decision made by professionals. It shows how useful these devices can be, not only for personal fitness reasons, but also in those (hopefully) rare instances where a medical condition pops up unexpectedly.
Most wrist-based trackers with optical heart rate monitors are heavily scrutinized for their inaccuracies. These devices are by no means perfect, but reasonably accurate heart rate monitors prove to be extremely useful in medically sensitive situations, and the Fitbit was key in this situation.
“Not all activity trackers measure heart rate, but this is the most valuable feature for medical providers,” said Alfred Sacchetti, MD, FACEP of Our Lady of Lourdes Medical Center. “At this time, activity trackers are not considered approved medical devices and the use of their information to make medical decisions is at the sole discretion of the clinician. However, the increased use of these devices has the potential to provide emergency physicians with objective clinical information prior to the patient’s arrival at the emergency department.”