The Apple Watch 4 that was revealed earlier this week at the latest Apple Event will include electrocardiogram testing, often referred to as an ECG. This test is how medical professionals check the electricity in a patient’s heart. With this new innovation, Apple has demonstrated they are making a big move into marketing the smartwatch as a mobile health device.
Why is this a big deal?
Usually, it takes several electrodes placed on a person’s chest to get this information. Having it accessible through the watch could lead to quicker diagnosis of atrial fibrillation or AFib, an irregular and often rapid heart rate that can increase a person’s risk of stroke, heart failure, and other heart-related complications.
AFib affects up to 6.1 million people in the United States, a number that researchers expect will double by 2050. Untreated, AFib doubles the risk of heart-related death and increases a person’s chance of having a stroke fivefold.
The new Apple watch’s heart sensor can collect user data in real time, and this technology will notify users immediately if they are experiencing an irregular heart rhythm or may be experiencing atrial fibrillation. Diagnosing AFIB earlier has the potential to allow users to take steps to prevent complications and possibly prevent a stroke.
Apple considered this development so important that it invited Dr. Ivor Benjamin – president of the American Heart Association – to be on stage for the announcement at the Apple Event on September 12th. Benjamin commented why capturing meaningful heart data like heart rhythms may change the way medicine is practiced, stating
“In my experience, people often report symptoms that are absent during their medical visits. That’s why information is vital – information about a person’s daily lifestyle choices and their specific health data.”
This new watch feature is a great improvement for monitoring your heart health because if you go to your doctor for an EKG and your heart is beating normally at that time, the test won’t show anything. But if you have an irregular heartbeat that shows up intermittently, such as paroxysmal AFib, the new Apple Watch 4 might be able to catch it.
[Personal Sidebar] I used an older version of the Apple Watch Series 3 when training for the Boston Marathon. I found it extremely accurate for monitoring my heart rate and running distance, right down to the last .2 of the 26 miles on race day!
I also had enrolled in the Apple Heart Study which recently wrapped up data collection to help give me peace of mind that I was being tracked for potential heart problems while training. Perhaps with this earlier study, Apple was gathering data and improving hardware to prepare for the series 4, not sure.
How Does it Work?
According to Apple, to take the test via their smartwatch, a user must launch the ECG app and follow on-screen instructions to place a finger on the watch crown for 30 seconds. Using electrodes in the watch crown and a new electrical heart rate sensor in the back crystal, the app will determine if the heart is beating normally or whether it detects signs of atrial fibrillation.
Watch Will Not Replace Medical Expertise
Despite this advance in smartwatch technology, the Apple Watch Series 4 and devices like it still can’t diagnose you with a medical condition. Nor are they at all a replacement for regular medical tests or health screenings or the expertise of a medical professional.
The benefit of having an EKG built into the Apple Watch is that it can alert you to previously unknown issues and urge you to get checked out by a doctor. As with the earlier Apple Watch models, the series 4 will also help you with monitoring your fitness and health tracking as well.
While the watch comes out later this month, Apple reported the ECG app will be available in the United States later this year. Of note-The Apple Watch Series 4 is the first smartwatch to get FDA clearance for EKG monitoring.
In my next post, I’ll cover how the release of the new Apple Watch series with improved sensors and features like fall detection and monitoring could potentially be a great tool for boosting home stroke recovery and rehab outcomes as well.