An Orange County cardiologist is warning Apple Watch users to be careful
when using the wearable fitness tracker’s new electrocardiogram
app, which the company unveiled Dec. 6.
Dr. Brian Kolski said he was woken up in the middle of the night last week
when one of his patients called him, panicked. The patient had looked
at an ECG reading on his Apple Watch and believed something was wrong.
“He texted me the strip and it was completely normal,” Kolski
said. “This was a healthy 45-year-old man who was playing around
on his watch and went into a major panic.”
Since Apple unveiled this new electrocardiogram app last week, Kolski has
received at least 20 calls and e-mails from panicked patients who thought
they were having atrial fibrillation or irregular heartbeat. Almost all
of those cases were false alarms or inconclusive, he said.
The fine print
An electrocardiogram, commonly known as an ECG or EKG, is a test that records
the timing and strength of the electrical signals that make the heart
beat. This test could provide insights about irregularities in heart rhythm.
Apple’s ECG app enables users to take simple 30-second ECG readings.
The results appear on screen and a user can forward the ECG result in
PDF format to his or her doctor if there is a concern.
Kolski says Apple should have released this app “in a more responsible
manner” by telling people how to use it and interpret the results.
He says the watch, which is mostly a fitness tracker, should not be counted
on for medical diagnosis.
An Apple spokesperson said the company does
provide guidance to customers who want to use the app, on its website.
But, Kolski says, very few users will actually read information posted
online. He has also seen cases where patients with heart conditions have
misread the watch.
One of his patients, an airline pilot with a congenital heart condition,
called Kolski in a panic because his baseline reading showed an abnormality.
“That has always been his baseline because of his congenital issue,”
Kolski said. “But he didn’t know that and grew concerned.”
In some cases, the watch has shown a normal heart rate when patients have
William Pinkerton of Studio City says he put on his watch after experiencing
palpitations and shortness of breath. But the watch showed a normal heart beat.
Still unconvinced, Pinkerton contacted Kolski, who is monitoring him using
FDA-approved medical monitors, which he says can provide an accurate diagnosis.
Not all bad news
The reviews for this app haven’t all been negative around the country.
featured the story of Ed Dentel, a 46-year-old communications consultant from Richmond, Va., whose Apple
Watch alerted him that he had an irregular heartbeat.
Dentel, who does taekwondo three times a week, bikes and hikes and has
no history of heart problems, said he installed the new app just to play
around with it.
He didn’t take the watch’s alert seriously as first, Dentel
told ABC. But, his concerns grew with repeated warnings.
He contacted his doctor and was diagnosed with atrial fibrillation, a condition
that could result in heart palpitations, weakened heart muscle, and an
increased risk of stroke.
Dentel believes the new Apple Watch app might have saved his life.
Kolski says while there are benefits to wearable technology, they should
not be used by anyone for actual medical diagnosis.
He says that’s the message Apple should get out to its customers
“Anyone who has symptoms should seek out professional medical guidance,” he said.
Don’t take what the watch says as fact, Kolski says.
“You shouldn’t think something is wrong with you if your Apple
Watch says that you are in atrial fibrillation,” he said. “And
on the other hand, you should not take a normal result from the watch
as a way of clearing yourself.”
Only a medical grade diagnostic device can provide accurate results, Kolski
said, adding that there are a number of different types of these monitors
that could track heart rates for different periods of time.
“The only thing you should be relying on is how you feel, your symptoms,”
he said. “Don’t look at a squiggly line and try to figure
out what it is.”