Wearable devices are cost-effective AF screening tools

Wrist-worn devices like smartwatches and fitness trackers appear to be cost-effective ways of screening for atrial fibrillation (AF) among high-risk people ages 65 and over, according to the results of a new modeling study.

The study involved 30 million simulated people matched by age, sex, and comorbidities to the US population 65 years and older (the mean age was 72.5 years), and half were women. All of the individuals had a high enough risk of stroke such that anticoagulation would be indicated if a diagnosis of atrial fibrillation was made. The researchers then compared eight screening strategies—six based on wrist-worn wearable devices and two using traditional modalities (pulse palpation and 12-lead ECG) — against no screening.

The research found that algorithms from wearable technology could detect irregular heart rhythms, and very often these irregular rhythms could be confirmed to be atrial fibrillation.

“This essentially means that, in this strategy, the device is doing the initial screening for atrial fibrillation on the user in the background,” said Steven A. Lubitz, MD, MPH, senior co-author of the paper. “The findings provide evidence that physician or healthcare system-directed use of wearable devices may be an important public health strategy to consider.”

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