- The Apple Watch Series 7, due for release later this fall, and the new watchOS 8 include a number of new and improved health and wellness features.
- The new smartwatch will continue to include an ECG to monitor heart health as well as a blood oxygen monitor.
- While the existing ECG received clearance from the Food and Drug Administration, the blood oxygen monitor did not.
- Health experts say that while the data collected from wearable devices is useful for both patients and doctors, it is not a substitute for medical grade devices..
When Apple launches its Watch Series 7 later this fall, expect to see new health features as well as the continued ability to measure your blood oxygen level and check your heart with an electrocardiogram (ECG) at all times. moment.
Apple’s new watchOS 8, released earlier today, also offers features like mindfulness and sleep tracking.
Although Apple did not respond to our request for comment, the tech giant’s website describes this latest iteration of its smartwatch as “the ultimate device for healthy living,” saying it can be used. to provide your doctor with important information about your heart health. .
But how true is this statement?
Healthline spoke with Dr Edo Paz, Medical Vice President at K Health and Cardiologist at Heartbeat Health, and Dr Aeshita Dwivedi, Assistant Professor at the Donald and Barbara Zucker School of Medicine at Hofstra and Cardiologist at Northwell Health, to Obtain expert perspective on the quality of Apple Watch Series 7 health features.
According to Apple’s marketing materials, the ECG app is capable of generating an ECG similar to a single-lead ECG used by healthcare professionals.
This test is used to record the timing and strength of electrical signals emitted when the heart beats.
Doctors can use an ECG to find out your heart rate and check for irregularities.
The Apple Watch uses electrodes built into the digital crown and the back crystal to read these electrical signals.
The app can then interpret these signals to show if there are any signs of atrial fibrillation, a type of irregular heartbeat, or if your heart is beating normally (sinus rhythm).
Apple calls its blood oxygen sensor and application “revolutionary”.
According to marketing materials, the sensor uses four groups of green, red, and infrared LEDs, as well as four photodiodes on the back crystal of the watch, to measure light reflected from the blood.
The watch then uses a custom algorithm within the app to measure blood oxygen levels between 70 and 100%.
Knowing your blood oxygen level tells you how well your lungs are absorbing oxygen.
Apple markets this as a wellness feature rather than a medical follow-up.
According to Paz and Dwivedi, when Apple introduced the ECG in its Apple Watch 6, it received approval from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The oxygen sensor in the blood did not.
So why the difference?
It really depends on the destination of the device.
Since Apple marketed the ECG as a tool for monitoring health conditions, the company had to prove that it worked for its intended use.
If it is marketed as a ‘wellness’ feature – like the
“There are many portable devices available in the market for tracking health information like heart rate, heart rate, and blood oxygen monitors. Although these devices can provide additional information, the accuracy of these devices remains unpredictable, ”said Dwivedi.
“Most devices are not approved by the FDA. This means that companies are not obligated to study the reliability or validity of their devices and how they compare to medical grade devices, ”she said.
“While these devices can help provide patients with a general trend regarding their health, the data should not be used to provide medical care or trigger medical interventions,” Dwivedi said.
Paz said he regularly reviews the data patients collect at home from devices like the Apple Watch.
“For example, if a patient has palpitations (a sensation of fast or irregular heartbeat), they could do a one-time recording on the Apple Watch’s ECG sensor,” he explained.
“The Apple Watch … got the FDA [clearance] for ECG monitoring and detection of atrial fibrillation. The company has studied this feature in clinical trials and published data demonstrating the device’s reasonable accuracy in detecting atrial fibrillation, ”added Dwivedi.
However, both experts agree that a definitive diagnosis of an abnormal heart rhythm would require the use of a medical grade ECG machine.
Paz noted that there was no specific data for the blood oxygen sensor that he was aware of. However, he said the wrist technique is generally less accurate than the typical technique of measuring oxygen in the blood using a fingertip sensor.
But Paz said he still believes there are opportunities for some people to tap into blood oxygen data, provided they do so under the care of their doctor.
In addition to the watch’s built-in health monitoring technology, some health features of the operating system itself are updated with the next version of watchOS 8.
The popular Breathe app has been updated with new visualizations and tips, and is renamed “Mindfulness”. Its purpose, according to Apple, is to help you “focus, center and connect as you breathe.”
The updated application also introduces a new type of session called “Reflect”.
Reflect sessions are short interludes, as short as a minute, that are designed to be completed anytime, anywhere.
Each session provides the user with a unique, positive thought to focus on. For example: “Think about one thing for which you are grateful and ask yourself why you appreciate it so much. “
Apple Watch can also help you track and improve the quality of your sleep.
In addition to letting you set a routine before bed, it is also able to track metrics such as time asleep, heart rate, blood oxygen, and respiratory rate while sleeping (how many breaths you take. take per minute).
To track these variables, it uses several features of the watch, including the various sensors as well as the built-in accelerometer.
All of this information, along with trends over time, can be viewed in the Health app on your iPhone.
Apple Watch now offers automatic detection when you’re riding a bike, prompting you to start a workout. It is also able to detect when you take a break and when you resume your workout.
Apple has also added Pilates and Tai Chi to its list of workouts.
Purchasing a watch will also give you a free 3-month subscription to Apple’s Fitness +, a service entirely based on the Apple Watch.
With the arrival of watchOS 8, Fitness + now offers picture-in-picture support and new filtering options.
In addition, users can stop and resume a workout in progress on any device.
It will also soon feature fitness experts and popular music artists in its workouts.
To ensure your safety, Apple Watch will soon offer fall detection for workouts. If the watch detects a sudden fall during your workout, it will automatically generate a call for help.