Constant monitoring can lead to anxiety, inappropriate and invasive testing and potential harm

CHICAGO --- Apple announced a next-generation Apple Watch during its annual hardware event Wednesday, along with a new electrocardiogram feature, which allows users to test their hearts’ electrical activity and detect abnormalities in their hearts’ rhythm “anytime, anywhere.” Despite the hype around the new feature, some critics claim it could do more harm than good.

Northwestern Medicine cardiologist Dr. Susan Kim said she “would land somewhere in the middle,” and can speak to media about the pros and cons of the new feature for patients. 

Kim is an associate professor of medicine and a specialist in cardiac electrophysiology at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. She also is the director of Cardiac Electrocardiography at Northwestern Medicine and sees patients with heart rhythm disorders. She can be reached at 312-695-0363 or susan.kim@nm.org.

Quotes from Professor Kim on pros of the new Apple Watch:

“The perfect patient for this technology is a patient who is having symptoms of heart racing that occur infrequently. Maybe they come into the doctor’s office and their heart rate is normal because they just don’t have the symptoms in that brief window.”

Patients with a history of heart rhythm abnormalities can elect to have an implantable loop recorder injected under their skin, which will monitor continuously for three years, Kim said. But this is a resource-intensive procedure that requires professionals to interpret the data.

“The new Apple Watch feature is much more consumer friendly and would allow patients to record their heart abnormalities only when they’re having their symptoms.”

Quotes from Professor Kim on cons of the new Apple Watch:

“Inappropriate, broad screening can lead to further inappropriate testing, which can lead to misappropriation of resources and, at worse, can lead to invasive testing or harm to the patient than would have normally occurred. I’ve definitely had patients with whom access to this kind of monitoring almost creates more anxiety in some ways. In some cases, I’ve recommended putting their heart rate monitors away because their concern about every second or minute of their heart rate can interfere with their daily life and become out of proportion to the degree of their problem.”