You might use your fitness tracker to make sure you're taking enough steps per day or to record your pace during a morning jog. But the device on your wrist or clipped to your shirt may have another major perk: It could help diagnose life-threatening conditions in the emergency room.
At least, this was the experience of an anonymous 42-year-old man who was the subject of a recent case study in the Annals of Emergency Medicine. The man, who had a history of seizures, was brought to the ER at Our Lady of Lourdes Medical Center in New Jersey following an episode.
While he went to the ER because of a seizure caused by a missed dose of medication that morning, doctors soon discovered the man had a more serious problem: With access to the patient's phone, emergency staff were able to look at his Fitbit app and discovered that he'd had an episode of atrial fibrillation -- an irregular, often sped-up heart rate that can disrupt blood flow -- three hours before the seizure. The Fitbit data was key because he showed no symptoms of atrial fibrillation.
"Using the patient's activity tracker -- in this case, a Fitbit -- we were able to pinpoint exactly when the patient's normal heart rate of 70 jumped up to 190," Dr. Alfred Sacchetti of Our Lady of Lourdes, one of the authors of the case study, said in a statement.
"Not all activity trackers measure heart rates, but this is the function of most value to medical providers," Sacchetti added. "Dizziness with a heart rate of 180 would be approached very differently from the same complaint with a heart rate of 30."
The data showed the medical team that the patient was a good candidate for rhythm conversion, in which a shock is administered to convert an irregular heart rate back to normal.
While fitness gadgets are not regulated and can't take the place of approved medical devices, this single case shows that they have the potential to be helpful in ways beyond tracking steps and calories.
"The increased use of these devices has the potential to provide emergency physicians with objective clinical information prior to the patient's arrival at the emergency department," Sacchetti said.
Considering there are many fitness trackers on the market that roll out new features every quarter, only time will tell when devices will be expertly catered to medical needs -- and beyond.