Surprise: Apple Watch isn't that great at detecting AFib, study shows

Apple Watch may have outsold the Swiss watch industry but its heart monitoring ability is objectively flawed.

Jill Ann Spaulding/Moment Mobile/Getty Images

When it comes to the health tech market, Apple Watch is one of the most formidable names in the sector. But a 2019 study by the New England Journal of Medicine reveals that Apple Watch does not detect atrial fibrillation (AFib) even when the heart rate exceeds 120 beats per minute. It's a glaring failure that affects anyone who thinks they can rely on the smartwatch for health monitoring.

The company's self-described approach toward "irregular rhythm notifications" may mislead its users into naively believing all is well with their health. We can't let that slide.

Apple needs to do better — For the record, Apple has been pretty upfront about the Apple Watch's limitations. As Fortune noted, Apple openly states that the Apple Watch is "not constantly looking for AFib" while adding that "people with AFib may not get a notification." The admission, while appreciated, is simply not enough.

Of note, researchers noted:

  • Apple Watch is unable to alert its users about AFib in 30 to 60 percent of cases.
  • The inability to alert a user about their heart rate past 120 beats per minute is especially worrisome as almost one-third of AFib patients report a heart rate past 120. A lack of notification may lead a patient to underestimate the medical risks they face.
  • A study published in Circulation discovered that Apple Watch alerted post-cardiac surgery patients about AFib with an accuracy rate of 41 percent. In more blunt terms, its failure rate is a staggering 59 percent.

What you can do in the meantime — There is no doubt that Apple has made tremendous progress in the health tech market. With the help of one small watch around the wrist, we are able to monitor our overall health in real time, at least to some degree. Still, there's a long way to go before we can blindly trust Apple Watch.

As the company works on improving its smartwatches' abilities, consumers should make a sincere and concerted effort to remain updated about the technology's strengths as well as blind spots. This kind of team effort between an informed consumer and transparent company could bring us closer to better, safer, and more accurate health tech.