“I see the value in really empowering consumers to manage and be aware of their own health,” says Ruth Webster, a Professorial Fellow at The George Institute for Global Health.
“As a tool, it’s very clever,” agrees Ben Freedman, a Professor of Cardiology at the University of Sydney. “About a third of [strokes] are related to AFib. If people with AFib are put on anticoagulants, if they’re at high risk, you can reduce it by about two thirds.”
But herein lies the rub. While the experts agree that these sorts of innovations are indeed game-changing, they are not risk-free.
For instance, AFib does not have the same stroke risk in a 40-year-old as it does in a 70-year-old, yet 40-year-olds are more likely to have a smartwatch. If low-risk consumers pressure their doctors for medication or invasive tests because they have received an AFib notification, it might even lead to harm.
“You wouldn’t want to be putting people at low risk of stroke, on blood thinners which may cause bleeding,” Freedman said. “It’s a two-edged sword. I think it’s a great technology, but… we’re not quite sure what to do with it yet and the harms could outweigh the benefits. The genie is out of the box unfortunately.”