Feb 20 2019
Patient-Centered Care

How Wearables Can Help to Battle Heart Disease

From smartphones to smartwatches, mHealth tools can contribute to the fight against heart disease.

Once every 43 seconds someone in the United States is struck with heart disease. Moreover, in the U.S. alone, about 610,000 people die of heart disease every year, accounting for 1 in 4 deaths, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

One of the primary issues with treating heart disease effectively, however, is that often much of the treatment — namely, changes in diet and exercise habits — happens outside of the walls of a healthcare organization. This is where new mobile health tools can step in to fill the gap, providing patients with a better understanding of their own health and connecting them with providers 24/7.

mHealth Tools Help Hearts Stay Healthy

What exactly can wearables deliver to heart disease treatment? First and foremost, these tools can help people maintain healthy habits. In fact, by using mHealth tools to improve health generally, it’s possible that 75 percent of cardiovascular disease, a form of heart disease, can be prevented, according to a recent study.

Noting that cardiovascular health maintenance, or CVH can limit cardiovascular disease through factors such as diet and exercise, the authors suggest that “an individualized prevention strategy integrating modern network strategies, genetic information and eHealth technologies will be the key to preserving and maintaining CVH from childhood throughout the lifespan with the potential to markedly improve CVH.”

This is because wearables, such as Fitbit, can offer a window into health habits by tracking activity. Moreover, many smartphones are already equipped with the necessary tools to monitor fitness, like accelerometers that measure steps, Greg Marcus, a cardiologist at the University of California, San Francisco, tells The Verge.

Taking it one step further, the data collected from wearable devices can offer a window into management for several chronic diseases like heart disease, and ultimately help to drive behavioral changes. These are the findings of a recent study from the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS).

“Driving long-term behavior change is difficult, but health coaches as individuals can do what machines can’t yet do. They can intuitively understand what matters to a particular individual and build a coaching program around it,” Rob Havasy, senior director of Health Information Systems at HIMSS, said in the HIMSS report. “The combination of wearables and health coaching allows for the blend of immediate feedback, timely interventions, accountability and support that people need to succeed in health behavior change.”

Apple Watch Tracks A-Fib

While using wearables to track and maintain habits that are beneficial to health could go a long way in the fight against heart disease, there are also tools that do even more: alerting patients and providers to likely heart issues.

This is the case with the Apple Watch, whose latest version, Series 4, has a feature that alerts wearers to an irregular heart rhythm, known as atrial fibrillation, in conjunction with an electrocardiogram application. A-fib is a leading cause of stroke that impacts between 2.7 and 6.1 million Americans, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

“Cardiovascular disease takes many forms and some are fully preventable through lifestyle changes like increased physical activity and better nutrition. It’s always great to see patients make those positive changes, especially with the help of Apple Watch,” said Sumbul Desai, Apple’s vice president of Health, in a press release. “Other conditions are more challenging to pinpoint like Afib and this is where we hope to help people access and understand information about their heart health through our irregular rhythm notification and ECG app.”

Already, the University of California, San Francisco Medical Center has begun to study how wearables are being used in conjunction with an algorithm to identify atrial fibrillation, with promising outcomes.

An issue, however, is that nearly 30 percent of people with A-fib don’t even know they have it. To address this, Apple announced a study in February 2019 in conjunction with Johnson & Johnson to study whether or not the watch could be used for early detection.

“We are receiving thank you letters daily from Apple Watch wearers who are discovering they have A-fib,” says Apple COO Jeff Williams, USA Today reports. “We want a deeper understanding about outcomes and prevention associated with early detection.”

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