The pros and cons of wearable ECG technology
Tuesday, December 17, 2019
New, wearable electrocardiogram (ECG) technology can be a tremendous boon to heart patients if it's utilized in a very precise and specific manner with the proper guidance.
According to Harvard Medical School data, 160 million people will soon be using wearable technology like smartwatches to monitor their physical activity and health. The Apple Watch Series 4 already boasts technology allowing wearers to monitor their heart rate, which could potentially be useful if a cardiac patent needs to monitor their heart rhythm, according to the American Heart Association.
Yet, as a doctor, it's important to prescribe and interpret use of these devices carefully. It has been estimated that 30% of wearable devices yield inaccurate results. Here are the right ways to incorporate wearable ECG technology into a treatment plan.
Outline ECG device limitations clearly to your patients.
ECG technology can be a very helpful gauge for simple applications, such as allowing a patient to check for palpitations, but the technology is not sophisticated enough to inform a patient whether he or she is having a bout of atrial fibrillation or a heart attack.
When talking with your patients about the right way to use a smartwatch for self-evaluation, you want to stress at the outset how important it is for them to only put so much stock into what information they can glean from it rather than think they are getting a full picture of their health from a device.
Be stringent about discouraging self-interpretation.
Just like you tell your patients not to self-diagnose or interpret the results of a symptom-related Google search, you don't want them evaluating smart watch results on their own, either. Tell your patients they need to report any changes in their heart rhythm to you immediately, and not to assume anything about their condition from a smartwatch.
Any troubling symptoms such as pain or shortness of breath, or other signs of a cardiac event, require immediately calling 911, too. They cannot decide that "the watch shows I'm OK."
Monitor your patients use the technology with great care.
Some cardiac patients may fall on and off the wagon when it comes to how consistently they use their smartwatch, similar to how some cardiac patients do better at sticking to diet and exercise recommendations you provide them with.
Prepare a fact sheet to give to every patient using wearable technology, outlining how to use it and how often. Stress the importance of recording results when that is appropriate.
Also, have your nurses do check-ins with patients by phone, text or email to see if there are any questions or problems as your patients work with their devices. This will ensure they are being diligent about monitoring.
Don't hesitate to stop or reduce ECG technology usage with certain patients at any time.
If a patient is not tech-savvy enough to use a wearable device correctly, tell them to stop using it as soon as possible and monitor them more frequently with in-office visits. If a patient is careless about using their device, tell them to discontinue as well.
Most importantly, if a patient's condition changes and a smartwatch is no longer helpful or relevant to their medical situation, tell them to stop using it for evaluation and explain why. When a wearable is used as the proper complement to a cardiologist's care, it can be a true benefit to a patient's health. But when it turns out not to be, moving on swiftly to better monitoring options is always the right decision.
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