Apple Watch heart health ECG feature launches in the UK
Image credit: Prykhodov | Dreamstime.com
Apple has rolled out its ECG app and irregular heart rhythm notification to Apple Watch Series 4 owners in the UK, Ireland and other countries across Europe.
The controversial health feature, which was launched in the US last December, allows Apple Watch users to test their heart rhythm directly from their wrist, by holding their finger on the digital crown of the watch. It also sends a notification to the user if it detects an irregular heart rhythm.
Initially, ECGs were limited to the US market because the feature had only received De Novo classification from the country’s Food and Drug Administration (FDA). However, the device is now CE marked and cleared for use in the European Economic Area.
“Apple Watch has helped so many people around the world and we are humbled that it has become such an important part of our customers’ lives,” said Jeff Williams, Apple’s chief operating officer.
“With the release of these heart features, Apple Watch takes the next step in empowering people with more information about their health.”
The new feature will be available to Apple Watch Series 4 devices through a free watch OS 5.2 update. Furthermore, all recordings taken from the ECG are stored in the Health app on the user’s iPhone. Results can also be shared with healthcare professionals in the event of any detected irregularities.
“We are confident in the ability of these features to help users have more informed conversations with their physicians,” said Sumbul Desai, Apple’s vice president of health.
“With the ECG app and irregular rhythm notification feature, customers can now better understand aspects of their heart health in a more meaningful way.”
The tech giant is hoping that the health features will help people detect heart rhythm problems early, with around half a million people in the UK alone estimated to be unaware that they have atrial fibrillation, according to the AF Association.
The Watch feature can intermittently check the wearer’s heart rhythm in the background. In the event that it detects an irregular heart rhythm, the health app can point to atrial fibrillation (a-fib) – one of the most common forms of abnormal heart rhythm (arrhythmia) that can increase the risk of stroke.
Around 1.3 million people in the UK have been diagnosed with this condition and hundreds of thousands of people in the UK are thought to be living with undiagnosed afib. Furthermore, the condition costs the NHS around £2.2bn each year.
Previously, doctors have warned against the rising use of personal ECG readings, as they could cause unnecessary anxiety for a user, resulting in a wasted trip to the hospital or doctor’s surgery.
At the time of the features launch in the US, cardiologist Theodore Abraham, director of the UCSF Echocardiography Laboratory, warned of ‘false positives’ when speaking to Wired in September 2018.
“Do you wind up catching a few undiagnosed cases? Sure,” Abraham said. “But for the vast majority of people, it will have either no impact or possibly a negative impact by causing anxiety or unnecessary treatment.”
“The more democratised you make something like ECG,” he added, “the more you increase the rate of false positive – especially among the hypochondriac set.”
Earlier this week (March 26), Apple announced a raft of new media services for TV, gaming and news, as well as an extension to Apple Pay in the form of a new credit card.