Do wearable sensors improve health outcomes for patients with atrial fibrillation?

A man uses a smart watch to track his heart rate while he exercises outdoors.

Wearable sensors, such as smartwatches and fitness trackers, can help people with atrial fibrillation, an irregular heart rhythm, monitor their pulse and heart rate. But do these devices improve health outcomes? That question remains open for now, but a study published in JAMA Network Open provides a foundation for future research.

After reviewing the electronic health records of more than 16,000 patients with atrial fibrillation, researchers selected 125 patients who wore cardiac-tracking health sensors and had active health records. They compared these patients to 500 patients who didn’t use wearable devices, but matched for similar characteristics, like age, medical history, and pulse rate. Patients wearing health sensors were more likely to be younger, healthier, and have more economic resources so researchers controlled for these factors by matching patients with others (not wearing a device) who shared similar characteristics. They found patients wearing health sensors were more likely to use additional health care services, including
surgery to correct for an irregular heart rhythm. However, these patients didn’t have a different pulse rate over time compared to patients without a commercial heart-tracking device.

The authors conclude that more research with larger populations is necessary to determine if wearable sensors impact health outcomes for adults with atrial fibrillation. They also note wearable devices may help with these studies. For example, symptoms picked up by a wearable heart monitor could be paired with electronic health records to evaluate differences in treatment and long-term health outcomes. The study was supported by the NHLBI and the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences.