For years, it’s been possible to buy fitness trackers that will track your steps, measure your heart rate, track sleep and record runs. However, when it came to giving health advice and diagnostics most vendors have shun away.
Today, Apple crossed that line and moved full speed into the area of medical devices with the new Apple Watch Series 4. It provided three new healthcare features.
Apple Watch’es have had a heart rate sensor since the beginning, but with the newest version they start analyzing the data and provide alerts and diagnostics. The three alerts they plan to provide is “High Heart Rate”, “Low Heart Rate” and “Irregular Rhythm / Possible atrial fibrillation”.
Taking an ECG using the Apple Watch
To further analyze the wellbeing of your heart, a new electrocardiogram (ECG) sensor has been added to the watch allowing the recording of a single-lead ECG and the watch is able to provide an initial analysis of the ECG for abnormalities and atrial fibrillation.
The system works by touching the “digital crown” with the non-watch hand creating a circuit. After the ECG has been recorded it is available in Apple Health and can be shared with physicians as a PDF.
Both the irregular rhythm and the atrial fibrillation algorithm has been FDA cleared.
A study from 2010 estimated that about 33.5 million patients had atrial fibrillation constituting 0,5 % of the world population (Worldwide Epidemiology of Atrial Fibrillation) and about 15 % of all stroke cases can be related to atrial fibrillation. Atrial fibrillation is also related to cardiomyopathy which can lead to heart failure. Hence, by being able to bring early diagnostic tools to the mass population, Apple could potentially reduce strokes and heart failures, if the patients have access to healthcare and are properly treated following the alarm.
Semilar functionality has been available from AliveCor for years, but it required an additional device and by integrating this technology into the watch, it will be much wider available.
Having personally worked with fall detection back in 2005 and published several papers about it, I personally know how hard a task it is to detect falls with high accuracy. Therefore, it was exciting to see the new watch having built in fall detection. And again, the watch is not only detection the fall, but also connected and able to automatically call emergency contacts.
And while Apple cannot yet prevent the person from falling, falls are the second leading cause of accidental or unintentional injury deaths worldwide, 646.000 individuals die from falls globally each year and 37.3 million falls are severe enough to require medical attention so the health potential of detecting falls and bringing help fast can make a huge health impact (Key facts from WHO).
The major shift taking place
In summary, Apple have been working for years on being relevant for healthcare and it’s finally starting to show.
- A single data repositoryFrom data in many repositories to collecting both patient and healthcare provider data in the Apple Health.
- Novel Health sensors With the addition of the ECG sensor, the Apple Watch slowly moves beyond merely fitness sensors
- Continuous data collection With the background analysis of the heart rate, it shows the potential for providing the equivalent of a car’s dashboard for a person’s health. It will use sensor data to detect abnormalities and raise alerts.
- Intelligent algorithms and semi-automatic diagnostics With the new algorithms Apple shows that simple diagnostics in the future might not require a doctor, but can be carried out by intelligent (AI) algorithms and have gotten them FDA approved.
It will be interesting to follow Apple and the rest of the industries journey forward.
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