Having the Internet and all your biometric data on one’s wrist might seem like a fantastic idea to some; but to others, too much knowledge is not always a good thing. Such is the case with the Apple Watch and its EKG/ECG app technology. Acquiring an Apple Watch from Apple with the app is the first step anyone needs to take to use this feature. The Apple Watch is still just consumer grade technology, which means it is not as reliable as the equipment found in hospital laboratories. Also, having all that data on one’s wrist could cause paranoia among perfectly healthy people resulting in unnecessary in lab testing and wasting medical resources that could be better used among those with actual cardiopulmonary issues. Still, the question remains, is the Apple Watch smart enough to save lives?
If someone from Apple’s marketing department was asked if the Apple Watch saved lives, they would likely direct you towards one of their press releases and say something along the lines of “We watch your heart. We watch your sleep. We watch what you eat. We watch you. Apple is good for you.” Their press release would preach all the benefits, like sleep tracking, handwashing detection, noise detection, ECG, fall detection, emergency calling and reminders to drink water. They will list off all the benefits, but they not produce any hard evidence to back it up how effective these features are on this Smart Watch. The term Smart Watch itself is a bit of an oxymoron in this case, as it requires an iPhone with an active Apple ID to even get these features to work.
The idea of having a wrist mounted screen that tracks your steps, sleep, caloric intake and heart rate might seem appealing to most. Sleep tracking might not be effective as it could be, as this Apple product doesn’t seem to have enough juice in it to last a full 24 hours, which calls into question if it could effectively track your sleeping habits if it’s recharging when the user should be. Having a non-invasive device that can allow patients to monitor their health and give a baseline history to show their doctors when something doesn’t seem right. A lack of sleep and a sudden spike in heartrate could be a sign of a condition that needs to be addressed and treated, and that baseline data would give the doctor a recent history to investigate. On the other hand, the slightest change could be a false positive and could cause people to self-diagnose making them paranoid enough to book an appointment/treatment with a healthcare professional, adding to the waitlist for people who actually need to see those doctors in a timely manner (“Why doctors are worried about the Apple Watch EKG”).
That being said, in a large scale eight-month assessment with 419, 297 participants, 2161 of those taking part in the assessment received notifications of irregular pulse. 450 of which returned ECG patches which found 34% of those who underwent additional testing were found to actually have atrial fibrillation. This means 297 of those 450 people underwent unnecessary additional testing due to a false positive on the Apple Watch (“Large-Scale Assessment of a Smartwatch to Identify Atrial Fibrillation”). For a device that is supposed to make its wearer feel safer, it does have a tendency to cause unneeded paranoia.
Although the ECG may not make the Apple Watch lifesaving technology, what about the intelligent fall detection technology? The idea is if someone were to fall down and be rendered immobile or unconscious, the fall detection would call emergency services if they wearer does not hit the cancel option on the screen within one minute. This means paramedics could arrive on site and get the victim treatment before permanent damage or death occurs, especially if the victim lives alone. Twentynine volunteers simulated falling with the device on, but the wrist mounted devices performed poorly due to frequent random movements of the hand and wrist (“Intelligent Fall Detection Method Based on Accelerometer Data from a Wrist-Worn Smart Watch.”) The study did come up with a solution that would improve the accuracy of the fall detection technology, so there is hope for the future, but tests of current technology aren’t showing much promise. It should be noted, that this study only simulated falling, so it could be more effective than results indicate as it is difficult to test such a feature without harming the volunteer.
Even though there are studies that say the Apple Watch does not work as well as Apple would have you believe in their commercials, there are still people that swear it saved their lives. On YouTube there are dozens of people that will go on record saying that watch is the reason they are still here today, and CNET interviewed five of them, and found it did offer life saving monitoring capacities.. Having access to Siri on her watch saved a woman and her 9-month-old child from a car accident when she couldn’t find her phone. The watch’s fall detection actually worked when a man from Norway fell face first on the bathroom floor in the middle of the night and lost consciousness. Another young woman found her heart rate kept spiking throughout the day and was convinced to go to the hospital by her husband, which lead to the discovery that she had hyperthyroidism, which could have led to life-threatening complications if left untreated. The heart monitor on a Florida man’s Apple Watch got him to go to the hospital, where he found out he was on the verge of going into cardiac arrest, and it warned him again a week later, which got him back to the hospital where they put him on a different kind of heard medication, which has not trigged his watch since. Finally, the Apple Watch helped a 300lb man in his early thirties shed 100lbs within a year of his doctor telling him to get his weight under control. While using it to lose weight, he found out he had an early heartbeat, which is harmless, but something that does need to be watched (“Apple Watch saved my life: 5 people share their stories.”) Any one of the people would argue the results of the heart rate and fall detection assessments.
In the end, it might be tempting to pick an Apple, but this one might not be ripe enough yet. It is hard to make a decision as to whether or not the Apple Watch could be considered a life “safety” device, or a lifestyle “enhancement” device. Science would say this falls firmly in the category of lifestyle enhancement category. However, despite the high number of false positive readings, it did alert a small number of people to heart issues they might not have known they had until it was too late. They, along with the woman who saved herself and her baby from being trapped in car wreckage with the Siri feature on her watch, or the man you dropped 100lbs in a year, would be sure to agree it is 100% a life safety device, as they would not be here today if they didn’t have firmly attached to their wrists in the first place. As one of the doctor’s pointed out in the Verge Science video, if you’re wearing a smart watch, you are probably active enough that you don’t have to worry about heart issues, unless you are already aware of a pre-existing condition. They say an apple a day keeps the doctor away, but this Apple may cause more visits to the doctor than ever before.