New Apple Watch features will transform heart health

“Today, with a software update, Apple switched on two highly anticipated features of its popular wearable: The first uses optical sensors to detect irregular heart rhythms on Apple Watch Series 1 and later iterations,” Robbie Gonzalez writes for Wired. “The second enables wearers of Apple Watch Series 4 to record an electrocardiogram, or ECG, directly from their wrist.”

“The features are the most ambitious to date in Apple’s growing suite of health-monitoring tools—but they are noteworthy also for producing a palpable tension in the healthcare community,” Gonzalez writes. “Some experts say the Apple Watch’s arrhythmia notifications and ECG have enormous potential to benefit public health. But those same experts also express caution and concern.”

“Apple Watch’s new features are designed to help users spot signs of an irregular heart rhythm known as atrial fibrillation — AFib, for short,” Gonzalez writes. “‘Apple has essentially gotten out ahead of where medicine is,’ says Greg Marcus, a cardiac electrophysiologist and the chief of cardiology research at the University of California, San Francisco… ‘The main concerns are that people will be unduly alarmed, anxious, and seek medical attention and treatments they don’t need,’ says Marcus.”

“In a large, generally healthy population, even accurate diagnostic tests can produce relatively large numbers of false positive results, which can frighten patients and overwhelm healthcare systems,” Gonzalez writes. “To complicate things further, it’s not clear what benefits will come from screening with the Apple Watch. “We don’t know what to do in an otherwise healthy 65-year-old who experiences one brief episode of AFib a year, let alone a healthy 30- or 40-year-old,” says [cardiac electrophysiologist Rod Passman, director of the Center for Atrial Fibrillation at Northwestern Memorial Hospital].”

Read more in the full article here.

MacDailyNews Take: The edge cases that D. Passman describes notwithstanding, as we wrote back in September: “We bet that millions with undiagnosed AFib far outnumber hypochondriacs, but, even if they didn’t, the lives saved plus the research potential of having millions of people contributing ECG information to medical studies (with Apple, it’s always opt-in, of course) will far outweigh some unnecessary checkups.”

ECG app and irregular heart rhythm notification available today on Apple Watch – December 6, 2018
Apple Watch Series 4’s electrocardiogram feature could do more harm than good – September 13, 2018
How Apple Watch saved my life – September 10, 2018
Apple Watch saves another life – August 7, 2018
Apple Watch saves yet another life – May 11, 2018
Apple Watch: How to enable Elevated Heart Rate notifications – May 8, 2018
Apple Watch saves life of New York man – May 3, 2018
Apple Watch saves Florida teen’s life – May 1, 2018
Apple Watch saves a mother and her baby after a car crash – February 16, 2018
Apple Watch saves kitesurfer stranded a mile off the California coast in great white shark-infested waters – November 13, 2017
Apple Watch saves another person’s life: ‘It would have been fatal’ – October 16, 2017
How my Apple Watch saved my life – July 25, 2016
A real lifesaver: Apple Watch saves lives – March 28, 2016
Man credits Apple Watch with saving his life – March 15, 2016
Apple Watch saves teenager’s life; Tim Cook offers thankful teen an internship – October 2, 2015


  1. Hmmm, maybe an Apple Watch could help me. I about kicked Ye Olde bucket last year from pulse going to 20 beats a minute, two times in a few hours. I hit the floor. Second ambulance took me in. First one didn’t! Needed 100% pacemaker and stent for 90% blockage! Doc a year earlier missed it, after doing a heart camera! Knuckleheaded arrogant doctor that he is… I have new one. Anyway, Apple Watch, eh?

    1. Well, you don’t have AFib, but a way to constantly check your heart rate and ECG would be useful when you don’t feel right. Just be aware blockages which have stents put in, often recur. Keep an eye on it.

  2. There is a great deal of debate in the medical community about whether this device will be of benefit to the community as a whole and unfortunately the EKG function is available only to watches sold to people in the US and not to those in other countries .
    In the meantime here in Canada I recommend the AliveCor Kardia device to patients and friends who have intermittent AF and who would benefit fromm active surveillance e of their cardiac rhythm..
    There are many causes of AF but the most common on an epidemiological basis is excessive alcohol consumption which is common this time of year .It is known in the medical community as Holiday Heart .

    1. “There is a great deal of debate in the medical community about whether this device will be of benefit to the community as a whole”
      I am not surprised. Ask your doctor to send or receive a text message or ask them to email you the explanation they just told you verbally so you will remember the information and most likely you will get, “we don’t do that” or “we don’t have that capability”
      I don’t blame them, they are afraid of liability whenever something is put down in writing, but this is something that needs to change.

    2. “EKG function is available only to watches sold to people in the US”
      Actually, it’s not the watch, but the software. The Apple Watch 4 they buy today will be able to offer the EKG function as soon as their country allows it.

      1. You are correct about that but it was initially said that one could use the EKG function outside of the US by changing the location info as one does with Apple news- alas not so .
        Although health care is similar in Canada ( with better outcomes in general ), health care is a single payer government funded system and I worry that anxiety about the risk of false positives may well delay approval by Health Canada , the regulatory body which often moves at a glacial pace .

        1. Dude, who “said that one could use the EKG function outside of the US by changing the location info”? Not Apple. That’s a hack.

          If you looked at the actual test data, the risk of “false positives” is extremely low, as it should be. Everyone in healthcare knows that false positives need to be guarded against, in order to prevent anxiety. Not really understanding why you need to be worried.

          Your comments are strange. On the one hand you want to circumvent the regulatory process in place to safeguard you; and on the other you’re worried about patients getting false positives, and yet you haven’t even looked up the research data, but you’re happy to opine about it. Weird.

          1. Dude-I have treated literally thousands of patients with atrial fibrillation in my 40 years of specialty practice in the care of patients with heart disease . Some need serious medical intervention which carries significant risks . A simple example of this in anticoagulation which carries a definable risk . Think of an older patient who is anticoagulated and falls down and breaks a hip. My American cardiology colleagues love the previous Apple Watches and were already seeing patients coming in worried about data from their watches . That is easy money but in a publicly funded system it is a phenomenal waste of time and resources . That is what I am referring to as a false positive not the research data about the accuracy of the watch.
            As to my own as you call it hack , we in Canada often don’t get the functions in our Apple products and are somewhat used to changing location settings so we can access them .
            I have no doubt Apple is about to become a major player in Health care which is why they are being very cautious about the regulatory aspects of this . We may well see Apple products in health care in the future-something as a 35 year Mac user and 25 year Apple investor would welcome .
            There was no regulatory issues with the photo-plasthysmagraphic heart monitoring in G1,2,3 Apple watches .
            Returning to AF-there is no universal recommendations for treatment . A young asymptomatic , otherwise healthy patient with occasional episodic AF may not need treatment as they are at very low risk of complications .That is not true of older people with co-morbidities .
            I worry that we may be seeing patients being treated with methods that increase risks to them .

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