One man's Fitbit device proved to be much more than a smart pedometer. After a 42-year old New Jersey man suffered a seizure at work one day, emergency room doctors used his Fitbit Charge HR to understand his heart rate history and decide how they could best treat him.
Upon arrival at Our Lady of Lourdes Medical Center in Camden, doctors noticed the man had an atrial fibrillation, or an irregular, fast heart beat. However, they weren't sure if it was a chronic condition or if it was caused by the seizure itself. Knowing this detail would determine how the doctors could treat the patient: If the arrhythmia was caused by the seizure, they could electrically cardiovert the patient to alleviate it. If it was chronic, the cardioversion could potentially cause a stroke. A stroke could also occur if the arrhythmia was left untreated.
That's where the man's Fitbit Charge HR came in. The doctors accessed the Fitbit app on his smartphone and found his average heart rate as recorded throughout the course of his fitness program. "[It] 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," researchers wrote in the report that now appears in the Annals of Emergency Medicine.
With the information provided by the Fitbit, doctors were able to perform electrocardioversion since the arrhythmia was caused by the seizure. This is a pretty big deal, since it's the first time in history that a fitness tracker aided a medical decision made by professionals. It goes to show just how useful these devices can be not only for personal fitness reasons, but in those (hopefully) rare instances when a medical condition comes up unexpectedly.
Most wrist-bound trackers that feature optical heart rate monitors that are heavily scrutinized for their inaccuracies. By no means are these devices perfect, but fairly accurate heart rate monitors are proving themselves to be extremely useful in medically sensitive situations, and the Fitbit was key in this situation.
"Not all activity trackers measure heart rates, but this is the function of most value to medical providers," said Alfred Sacchetti, MD, FACEP of Our Lady of Lourdes Medical Center. "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. However, the increased use of these devices has the potential to provide emergency physicians with objective clinical information prior to the patient's arrival at the emergency department."