Is Apple Watch’s new ECG feature a help or a hinderance?

Apple has hailed its newest watch-cum-heart monitor as a game changer but concerns have been raised about its usefulness as a medical device.

The innovative tech giant has announced that the US version of its Apple Watch Series 4 includes a built-in electrocardiogram (ECG) and heart rhythm monitor.

While portable ECGs are nothing new, this is the first wristwatch designed to detect atrial fibrillation (AF).

One major issue with AF is that it often has no symptoms meaning that many people only receive their diagnosis after a stroke.

Given that about one in four AF patients will have a subsequent stroke and these are often more debilitating than the initial event, Apple’s latest invention seems like a major step forward.

So, why has the company not yet sought TGA approval to market the device here?

I’m guessing it’s because not everyone is seeing the value of such a gadget.

Some argue it can’t be treated as a replacement for conventional ECGs, and that it could lead to false positives and panic among users.

This reminds me of concerns raised about another health-related product, 23andme, when the genetic information it was providing was causing potentially unnecessary anxiety.

Others see the Apple ECG as more of a screening tool than a diagnostic tool and its reliability is in question.

However, at the Apple special event in California recently, leading cardiologist and current president of the American Heart Association, Dr Ivor Benjamin commended the company’s commitment to health.

What’s more, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) also appears to be on board, affording it “clearance” which is important from a safety and quality standpoint.

As well as the already mentioned heart rhythm monitor and in-built ECG, this considerably small piece of wearable technology has the ability to detect falls and if necessary, make an emergency phone call.

For me, it’s a beautiful example of Apple looking outwards to recognise a world issue: our ageing population and helping to be a part of the solution to fall-related disability and premature death.

To the naysayers, I say focus on the positives.

By elevating its investment in health to sit alongside connection and fitness, Apple is promoting personal responsibility for heart health as well as putting more weight behind the still relevant phrase ‘prevention is better than cure’.

Apple is also enabling the collection of important information and health data within the constraints of privacy laws.

Apple didn’t invent the portable ECG and it wasn’t even the first to develop an ECG app.

Instead the company has taken existing technology and an existing device and combined them in a wristwatch that has the capacity to pick up life-threatening arrhythmia. What’s not to love about that?

 

Marina Morison is client services director, content & education at ADG.

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