The Fitbit Charge HR helped doctors save man’s life

This week, for the purpose of an upcoming review, I’ve been wearing not one, but two Fitbits. If anything can justify this fashion faux pas better than professional diligence, it’s the fact that it has the potential to save my life. Previously, I’d have thought that a long shot, until I read of a 42-year-old New Jersey man whose Fitbit Charge HR did just that.

The Fitbit Charge HR helped doctors save man's life

Appearing in the Annals of Emergency Medicine, the case study involves the unnamed man arriving at Our Lady of Lourdes Medical Center following a seizure. The staff quickly noticed he had an atrial fibrillation (an irregular heart beat) but couldn’t know for sure whether it was chronic or triggered by the seizure.

That may sound like an insignificant detail, but it’s potentially a matter of life and death. If the atrial fibrillation was triggered by the seizure, then the hospital’s preferred course of action is to electrically cardiovert the patient to restore the heart rate to normal levels – and not doing so could result in a stroke. On the other hand, if the high heart rate was chronic, then the same treatment could also trigger a stroke by dislodging an appendage clot.

If only the patient was wearing some kind of device that passively tracks heart rate for the past few hours…fitbit_saves_life

The doctors quickly noticed the patient’s Fitbit Charge HR, and consulted the heart rate record on the accompanying app. Or as the report puts it: “The application was accessed on the patient’s smartphone and revealed a baseline pulse rate between 70 and 80 beats/min, with an immediate persistent increase to a range of 140 to 160 bpm at the approximate time of the patient’s seizure. The pulse rate remained elevated until administration of the diltiazem in the field.”

While this isn’t the first time a Fitbit has saved a life, it’s novel for medical professionals to directly consult wearable data before deciding how to proceed.

Earlier this year, 18-year-old student Sarah-Jayne McIntosh saved her own life when she spotted her standard 84bpm heart rate skyrocket to 210bpm while studying, just weeks after receiving a Fitbit Surge for Christmas. After calling 111, she was rushed to hospital, where doctors discovered she had a previously undiagnosed heart condition.

The doctors said that if I hadn’t phoned for an ambulance when I did and if I wasn’t wearing my Fitbit to track my heart rate, I could have suffered a heart attack/cardiac arrest and could have died,” she told the Southport Visiter at the time.

While in the past, I’ve found the kind of cheaper heart rate trackers used in commercial products a mixed bag, this certainly proves that in some cases they can be a useful ‘canary in the coal mine’ for serious underlying medical problems. Just one more reason to keep yours charged and on your wrist.

However, the Annals of Emergency Medicine paper points out, “At present, activity trackers are not considered approved medical devices, and use of their information to make medical decisions is at the clinician’s own discretion.”

READ NEXT: How connected devices could revolutionise healthcare

Image: Annals of Emergency Medicine

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