Could your FitBit save your life?

Doctors in New Jersey used the data from a patient’s activity monitor to save his life

Wearable technology is everywhere these days. Most of the big tech manufacturers have either already released a device or are working to develop a wearable of some kind. Fitness trackers are incredibly popular here in Ireland and have many uses. They can count steps, monitor sleep and some can even take the wearer’s heart rate.

While it’s impressive to see the real time information displayed on a screen, what can you actually do with this data?

Well, doctors in an emergency room in New Jersey recently used the heart-rate data from a patient’s FitBit to figure out what treatment was needed. The details of this case were published in this month’s Annals of Emergency Medicine.

The male patient arrive at the ER following a grand mal seizure, unaware that his heart was in trouble.

"He came in with atrial fibrillation, and he didn't recognize he was in it," says Dr. Alfred Sacchetti, head of emergency medicine at the Our Lady of Lourdes Medical Centre in New Jersey. Atrial fibrillation is where the upper chambers of the heart quiver erratically.

"And so the team asked him," Sacchetti recalls, " 'Do you feel your heart racing?' He said, 'No, I really don't feel anything. I feel perfectly fine.' "

The patient was not fine, however. He was at an increased risk of having a stroke as the heart chambers were not in sync. If an abnormal heartbeat has been ongoing for more than 48 hours, the risk of a clot is high.

The doctors began to try to determine when this irregular heartbeat began and shock the heart back into a normal rhythm.

Doctors noticed the patient was wearing a FitBit fitness tracker which paired to his phone wirelessly. With the patient’s permission, doctors checked the data, which included a heart rate monitor and figured out the arrhythmia had only begun two hours before he presented into the ER.  

"We were able to hook him up to the pads, put him to sleep, give him a little shock, and let him wake up and go home," Sacchetti says.

Dr Sacchetti is quick to point out that a Fitbit, or any other fitness tracker, is not a medical device; the information it provides is limited and varies from model to model. He did, however, state that such trackers may become useful in other situations in the future.