Gizmos Topic of the Week

Can we monitor COVID-19 patients with the Apple Watch?

A team of scientists of the Bordeaux University hospital think so, according to a study published in the Circulation journal. But why should we monitor COVID-19 patients with the Apple Watch?

COVID-19 drugs are not ideal

As of the writing of this article, COVID-19 drugs are messy. Most of them treated entirely different health conditions before being co-opted to help in the pandemic. The fact that they have multiple effects on the human body also means that they have multiple side effects on it, too. Perhaps the most dangerous have to do with the heart – some cause the heart to take longer to recharge between beats. Doctors call this disorder QT prolongation. If another beat comes while the heart is still recharging, it can cause deadly arrhythmias.

The Apple Watch detects this disorder – but not when it’s on your wrist

In order to get a complete picture of the heart’s activity, doctors take “electrical snapshots” from 12 different sites. Also known as the 12-lead ECG, this test is best at detecting QT prolongation. The Apple Watch monitors only one of theses 12 sites. Even worse, the electric “vantage point” on our wrists just so happens to be one of the worst at detecting this disorder. To deal with this problem, the researchers at Bordeaux told patients (not COVID-19 patients, mind) to place the Apple Watch on their chest. The result was a crystal clear view that allowed doctors to detect QT prolongation with great accuracy. In fact, the Apple Watch was only 3% off compared to the 12-lead ECG in a study of 100 patients.

Should COVID-19 patients order an Apple Watch right now?

Right now, COVID-19 patients likely won’t get much help out of an Apple Watch, at least regarding QT prolongation. The drugs linked to this side effect do not see use outside a hospital setting for the time being. That said, doctors may feel safer in using these traditionally dangerous drugs if they know that something stands watch over their patients. What better could this be than the Apple Watch – the Swiss army knife of quasi-medical devices?

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