​Fitbit's passive ECG monitoring feature heads to the FDA

Fitbit's could soon alert you to serious health conditions
​Fitbit's passive ECG heads to the FDA
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Google has submitted a new Fitbit heart monitoring feature to the FDA, which could automatically alert users to problematic heart rate rhythms.

Fitbit is one of a handful of wearable tech companies that offers ECG monitoring, and the feature is available on its Charge 5 and Sense devices. That enables wearables to identify atrial fibrillation (Afib), an irregular heart rate rhythm that most sufferers are unaware of, but is a leading cause of strokes in the US.

But like the Apple Watch Series 7 and Samsung Galaxy Watch 4, an ECG reading has to be taken manually, using the built-in app and using EKG sensors in the case.

Passive heart rate rhythm monitoring would automatically check your heart rate rhythm continuously as you go about your day using the PPG sensor. That could be something of a game-changer, because it could pick up sporadic heart rate rhythm events as they happen, and doesn’t reply on the user manually spot checking.

We first reported Fitbit’s work on passive ECG monitoring back in December 2020, when Wareable spoke to Dr Conor Heneghan, Director of Research Algorithms at Fitbit.

At that point Fitbit was concluding a clinical trial, which studied around half a million people, and the passive monitoring flagged 5,000 people for a follow up appointment.

And now Google has submitted the feature to the FDA for approval, which would see it launch on devices.

“[Passive monitoring] will pick up the things that you wouldn't have been aware of yourself." Dr Conor Heneghan, Director of Research Algorithms at Fitbit told us back in 2020.

“It can let you know if Afib events happen during sleep, when you’re least aware of it,” he continued.

The new technology is designed to complement the ECG sensor, not replace it. If it detects you might have a heart rhythm problem, it will prompt you to take a manual ECG spot check.

But that’s not because the PPG is less accurate than ECG, says Dr Heneghan. It’s because when you start a conversation with your doctor about the alert, they’re more likely to find an ECG useful.

“Doctors are used to looking at ECGs over an optical heart rate signal – so you just have to work with the world," he explained.

“If you go to your doctor with a report that has an ECG strip it's much easier for them for say ‘I understand this, you should go talk to your cardiologist'.'”

There’s no timescale for when the feature will be approved and launch on devices.

Unlike Fitbit’s own ECG tech which was approved by the FDA quite quickly, this is new ground for wearables, so it could take some time.

Source: The Verge