Wednesday 14 November 2018

Granny Apple - how new watch could save her life

Game changer: Apple has regulatory approval to load in a full ECG sensor and diagnostics
Game changer: Apple has regulatory approval to load in a full ECG sensor and diagnostics

Adrian Weckler in Cupertino, California

Is it time to get your granny an Apple Watch?

Normally, Apple product launch is all about iPhones. But this week, there was equal attention to a breakthrough new feature on its new Series 4 Watch, with its built-in electrocardiogram sensor.

The wrist gadget can give you an ECG, thanks to its new sensor. In other words, it might be able to tell if you're about to have a heart attack.

At the very least, it can give you an idea about the overall health of your heart.

Is this a game-changer for how you think about personal tech devices? Apple is the only company to get official regulatory approval to load in a full ECG sensor and diagnostics. But it is signalling its move into new areas - health, and older people.

"We've added electrodes into the back sapphire crystal and the digital crown, allowing you to take an electrocardiogram," said Apple chief operating officer Jeff Williams. "This is the first ECG product offered over the counter, directly to consumers."

The new feature is aimed mainly at people with atrial fibrillation, or a condition of having an irregular heartbeat.

According to recent research from Trinity College, about 3pc of Irish people have this condition, with more than a third undiagnosed and almost two thirds being "inadequately treated". The most common group affected are those over 50. The research showed non-diagnosis is especially rife among people living in rural areas, who don't have as much access to hospitals or medical devices. It's a deadly threat. The TCD study showed 68pc of those with an irregular heartbeat are "at high risk of a stroke".

What the new Apple Watch does is to use electrodes built into the gadget's 'digital crown' (the small dial on the side) and an electrical heart-rate sensor on the back. You touch the digital crown and 30 seconds later, get a 'heart rhythm classification'.

Used with Apple's Health app on the iPhone, this can all be stored in a PDF file that can then be shared or shown the next time you go to a doctor.

Older versions of the Apple Watch are also being updated shortly with a feature that notifies you if you have an irregular heart rhythm, or whether your heartbeat exceeds or falls below a set threshold you and your doctor have set.

Apple is clearly making a strong pitch in this direction. The new Watch also has a feature called 'fall detection'. Using enhanced sensors (including an accelerometer and a gyroscope), it can tell the difference between lying down for bed, sitting down, exercising (like squatting) and an actual fall. It then sends you an alert asking you whether you have fallen and, if it "senses immobility" for 60 seconds or doesn't get a dismissal, proceeds to call an emergency number.

Consumer tech is starting to reach a bit deeper into areas of general well-being and health, rather than simply being about us staying glued to a screen.

Irish Independent

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