Cardiologist highlights potential harms of Apple Watch’s EKG function

The built-in electrocardiogram (EKG) feature of the Apple Watch Series 4 has been hailed as a major health innovation, gaining clearance from the FDA and drawing praise from the American Heart Association’s president during the product launch.

But writing in a blog for the New York Times, Aaron E. Carroll, MD, said the EKG capabilities—which could inform patients of previously undetected arrhythmias—could do more harm than good.

Carroll is particularly worried about false positive readings, which could be costly to the healthcare system and cause users to have unwarranted emotional distress by believing their hearts aren’t functioning properly.

“The healthcare system is already busy, if not overloaded,” wrote Carroll, a professor of pediatrics at Indiana University School of Medicine. “No physician wants to field calls from patients who have no problems. Such patients will require visits and further testing, and will potentially receive interventions. They’ll generate bills and harms without benefits.”

Carroll also noted the United States Preventive Services Task Force gave a grade 'D' recommendation to universal cardiac monitoring for asymptomatic adults at low risk, a population Carroll believes is most likely to purchase the new watch. Even higher-risk patients shouldn’t be universally screened, according to the recommendation group.

“The people most in need of it, those who might benefit from tests and distance monitoring, are the least likely to get it,” Carroll said. “If we truly believed this was a medical test beneficial to the general population, insurance should pay for it. No one is suggesting that should happen.”

Carroll acknowledged he owns an Apple Watch and enjoys many of the features. He just doesn’t believe it should be viewed as a credible medical device.

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