Patient Engagement, Diagnostics

Heart patient: Apple Watch got me in and out of hospital fast

“Going in with the data certainly reduced my stay by a couple of days,” Ken Robson told MedCity News. It also assured that he could have a pacemaker implanted nearly immediately.

A few days ago, we reported on an incident, related by digital health champion Dr. Eric Topol, of a patient self-diagnosing a serious heart ailment based on Apple Watch data. We have since spoken to that patient, and heard a fascinating story.

Virginia resident Ken Robson, 64, had been visiting his son in the San Diego area in mid-June. “I had been noticing that I had been feeling weak and lightheaded,” he said. He also noticed severe drops in his heart rate. “Your heart rate doesn’t go into the 30s and 40s unless you’re an Olympic athlete,” Robson said. He knew something was wrong, so he went online and self-diagnosed with a heart arrhythmia known as sick sinus syndrome.

Robson had a doctor’s appointment for shortly after he was to return home, but a day before he was scheduled to depart San Diego, he went to the emergency room at Scripps Mercy Hospital. “I didn’t want to be ‘that guy’ on the airplane” who caused an unscheduled landing due to a medical emergency, or worse, who died in flight.

When he got to the hospital, Robson told staff that he had been tracking his heart rate on the watch, and had two weeks of back data. “Going in with the data certainly reduced my stay by a couple of days,” he told MedCity News. It also assured that he could have the operation nearly immediately.

Because the hospital could check his Apple Watch data, Robson did not have to wear a heart monitor for a week before the medical team at Scripps Mercy could confirm the diagnosis of sick sinus syndrome.

Robson had a pacemaker implanted on almost an outpatient basis; he was held in the hospital overnight, but released the day after the surgery, and immediately returned to normal life upon discharge. “My son’s a bartender,” Robson said. “We went to the bar and had a drink.”

At the hospital, “Everybody was interested [in this self-diagnosis with the help of the Apple Watch], but nobody was convinced,” Robson said. But attending cardiologist Dr. Jerrold Glassman confirmed the ailment. “This was one of the rare instances where the patient was right in self-diagnosis,” Robson said.

“I was watching [my heart rate] on my watch while they were watching on a [medical-grade] monitor, and they synched up,” according to Robson.

A month and a half later, Robson said he has seen a “dramatic improvement” in his heart rate and his life, thanks to the pacemaker. “I think it’s slightly overstating it that it saved my life,” Robson said. “I would say it vastly improved my life much quicker than it would have otherwise.”

He added that “we’re just beginning to learn the possibilities” of the Apple Watch and similar wearables. Robson noted that users can make phone calls by voice command from their watches as long as they are tied by Bluetooth to an iPhone. With this feature, the Apple Watch could serve as a lifeline in an emergency when the wearer is unable to reach and manually dial the phone.

“It’s the incremental little pieces that make our lives so much better,” Robson said. “This is kind of a cool and exciting new frontier.”

Photo courtesy of Ken Robson