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Apple Watch ECG is putting a lot of health control in consumers’ hands


Similarly, Dr. Leslie Saxon, division chief for cardiovascular medicine at the University of Southern California, has publicly praised Apple for helping people take control of their health.

The early days of Apple’s ECG are forcing a balancing act between democratizing health data and turning too many patients into untrained MDs. Apple has stressed that its watch is not a diagnostic tool, and that patients should seek health advice from their doctor.

One fear among many physicians is that patients with data from sophisticated wearable devices will start to demand unnecessary tests and procedures, which can bring health risks and added costs to an already overburdened health-care system.

They also take doctors away from patients who really need their help. Dr. Eric Topol, a cardiologist, recently pointed out that there are even cases when an Apple Watch will accurately detect atrial fibrillation on someone who doesn’t have any troubling symptoms. Such patients may rush to get screened even though there’s no evidence to suggest that they should, Topol said.

Even more troubling are the false negatives, or instances of atrial fibrillation that aren’t picked up by the Apple Watch. With millions of people potentially using the ECG, very small errors can mean thousands of patients getting inaccurate information, prompting them to experience too much anxiety, or not enough.

Dr. David Albert, founder and chief medical officer of heart health technology company AliveCor, expects that artificial intelligence will eventually filter what ends up in the hands of doctors.

AliveCor sells its own ECG device for consumers and is among the emerging companies focused on ensuring that patients get direct access to important health information, but without overburdening their doctors.

The challenge is to avoid submitting an “avalanche of inconsequential data,” Albert said.

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