Gadgets and gizmos as a tool to screen for AF 5 reasons for caution

Smart watches, gadgets in the back of phones etc……

I’m not yet persuaded. Why? – Answer in 5 parts –

Accept I’m hardline on this.


Message of chunk 1 is sort out anticoagulant in prevalent pop first. One of the reasons why the proposition to screen failed NSC test at last ask.

DONT get me started on warfarin v DOAC – my blood pressure will rise.

NICE shouldn’t have said yes in the TAs of DOACs in my view, but it didn’t have much choice.

Sort out treatment optimisation first. The Bradford AF story is here. I kept meaning to write it up properly but failed to find the will to live so I did some pretty slides instead.


Alive Cor is tool on lots of folk’s phones

I think (may stand corrected) they’ve done the work testing diagnostic accuracy of tool against gold standard (pulse and 12 lead ECG) and stacks up well

So as a tool on back of GP phone to diagnose symptomatic AF it might stack up. Slight caveat, a Bradford GP once diagnosed me with AF with the gadget – I don’t have AF – it’s not perfect.

Have a look at this thread by John Malondra

And read this blog – Overdiagnosis Only a Matter of Time With ECG Watches. I’d encourage you to read & inwardly digest every word. Remind yourself of the Screening 101 lesson plan also

Many have expressed concerns eg …. “This is arguably my most famous tweet, which has shown up at professional society meetings. Actual pulse is 147 bpm.”

However – having it on the back of a phone might lead to a wish for screening. But my fear is it leads to path of “we’ve got a shiny tool, we should screen for AF” . Important to distinguish symptomatic with asymptomatic. And also important to distinguish test vs screening programme. Screening is not a test, it’s a programme.

Message 2 – a) be really really sure the technology stacks up, are you really really sure the kit is good for the job, b) distinguish symptomatic and asymptomatic. c) Screening test vs programme


Comes then to the 2014 NSC position on it.

I was asked a year ago by a professor of cardiology what it would take to get the NSC to change their view. What I wrote to him I turned into a blog – here

Check the carefully worded NICE recommendation

However the world is full of forceful patient groups (mostly backed by pharma cash who want to sell us DOACs) who want us to save lives by screening.

Message 3 for me = NSC position on screening stands, till they change position.

slight caveat – about 6/12 ago NIHR published a cost effectiveness report commissioned by NSC I think on screening for AF

Message 4 = till NSC change their view, position stands


The Ahhhhh but it’s not screening, it’s “case finding” card.

There isn’t any difference. IMO. The end

Here’s the blog version of paper I wrote for Ann Mackie on the topic


Message 5 = it’s screening, unless it’s testing in symptomatic patient, thus think about NSC position.

6) even then. Operational stuff

Even when all what is addressed, see the conclusion to this editorial

Before we can introduce a national screening programme, we need to know from randomised trials whether or not AF screening is effective at reducing cardiovascular morbidity and mortality. There are ongoing trials exploring this question in Sweden and the Netherlands, and more are planned. If screening is effective, there are several operational issues that need to be addressed before a national screening programme can be introduced: What is the optimal target population? What is the optimal screening technology? How best to confirm that screen-positive people do have AF? How to ensure fully informed patient choice, both with regard to acceptance of screening, and subsequent treatment if found to have AF?

There is strong potential for public health gain in screening for AF, but, as yet, the evidence base is unlikely sufficient for a national programme.


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