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Apple Watch Series 4: A life-saving tool or just making us more health obsessed?

Apple’s latest Watch boasts lots of new health and fitness features. But are these really beneficial? Or are they just making us more health obsessed?

I was once told that health anxiety (often known as hypochondriasis) is one of the most common types of anxiety. Specifically as health is something that we (humans) have pretty much no control over.

‘Good’ health is often down to the luck of the draw. Or in our case, ‘luck of the genes’.

Personal health is therefore a very emotive topic for humans and humans buy for emotive reasons.

It’s no surprise that major tech brands, such as Apple, fitbit and Amazon, cottoned on to this idea and developed an array of wearable health tech devices that enable us to monitor various aspects of our health (sleep, heart rate, inactivity, fitness …etc.) 24/7, 365 days of the year.

It’s predicted that this industry will be worth nearly $19.5bn by 20211. And that’s only set to increase…

In a bid to stay ahead of the competition, Apple unveiled the latest addition in its wearable collection a couple of weeks ago – the Apple Watch Series 4.

Aside from its typical uses, the Apple Watch Series 4 offers consumers more health-related features than any of its predecessors, such as an inbuilt electrical heart rate sensor (ECG), fall detector and emergency SOS notifier.

While it might sound appealing to have the ability to monitor your heart rate, sleep quality, activity levels…etc. every second of the day, the Apple Watch, like other wearables, is not a trained healthcare professional and normal body patterns (such as rising and falling heart rates) could be interpreted by its wearers in a negative fashion -  instilling fear and anxiety in many.

Distinguishing between anxiety-related symptoms and those caused by physiological conditions:

It’s estimated that between 4 to 7 per cent of patients who visit doctors’ surgeries are (often unknowingly) suffering from health anxiety and that they consume health resources at a rate of 10 to 13 times the cost of the average person2. In an already over-burdened NHS, GPs and healthcare professionals simply do not have the time and resources to distinguish between genuine health concerns and those symptoms caused by anxiety.

With this in mind, are wearable devices, such as Apple’s new watch, really that helpful to our health and wellbeing? Or are they, unintentionally, making us a nation of subconscious health obsessives, clogging up the already over-burdened public health service?

In cases where individuals have serious health concerns, this new device really could be a lifesaving tool.

Taking an electrocardiogram with your watch:

Take atrial fibrillation for example – a heart condition that causes an irregular and often abnormally fast heart rate, leaving the individual at increased risk of stroke if left untreated. Sometimes however, this condition displays little to no symptoms, resulting in the condition being undetected.

This is where the Apple Watch Series 4 really has the potential to be beneficial to health. Through the electrodes which have been added into the back sapphire crystal and the digital crown of the Apple Watch Series 4, users are able to take an electrocardiogram of themselves anywhere, at any time3. This is the first ECG product to be offered over the counter, directly to consumers3.

For those individuals who display no ‘outward’ symptoms of atrial fibrillation, it can alert the user to abnormal heart rate rhythms and encourage them to seek the necessary medical attention.

Furthermore, the Apple Watch Series 4 also has the potential to be highly beneficial to those patients who visit their doctor with vague cardiovascular symptoms but are unable to reproduce the symptoms during their visit. One of the biggest challenges faced by cardiologists is that they often hear about heart problems after the fact.

It’s these kinds of people who require more expensive, prescription-based monitoring systems. If a doctor could therefore ask that kind of patient to record their own symptoms on a gadget they already own, that could be a win for the healthcare provider and the patient.

Fall detector:

In addition to the electrocardiogram, the Apple Watch Series 4 also contains a fall detector, which (unsurprisingly) can detect if you’ve fallen. In instances where you’re unresponsive and don’t move for over 60 seconds, an emergency call will be automatically placed, and a message sent to your emergency contacts.

This feature really could be life-saving for many individuals, especially those who live on their own, particularly the elderly. Not only could it lead to fewer fatalities, but it could also give their family members a greater peace of mind that they were being monitored and ‘cared for’ in their absence.

Take these readings with a pinch of salt:

While the new Apple Watch does offer these potentially life-saving benefits to certain demographics of the population, its readings, particularly those related to the ECG monitor, should be taken with a pinch of salt.

It should be noted that while the FDA has approved the Apple Watch’s ECG feature as an approved medical device, this does come with caveats, stating that, “the ECG data displayed by the ECG app is intended for informational use only.”It is by no means a fall-proof medical detection device.

As quoted by the cardiologist, Theodore Abraham, Director of the UCSF Echocardiography Laboratory, ‘Do you wind up catching a few undiagnosed cases? Sure. But for the vast majority of people it will have either no impact or possibly a negative impact by causing anxiety or unnecessary treatment.”3

In an already over-burdened national health service, this could really slow down and prevent patients that really do need help, getting the care and treatment that they need.

Something therefore tells me that NICE (The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence) won’t be approving the Apple Watch Series 4 as a medically approved device any time soon, especially at $399 a pop!

All that said, any device that's encouraging us to improve our health and fitness shouldn't be shunned. Just make sure you buy into it with eyes wide open.

By Harriet Turner @ Page & Page

1 https://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/the-global-market-for-wearable-medical-devices-was-valued-at-48-billion-in-2015-300582717.html
2 http://www.abc.net.au/health/features/stories/2003/04/17/1835641.htm
3 https://www.wired.com/story/ecg-apple-watch/
4 https://www.digitaltrends.com/mobile/could-ecg-functionality-in-the-new-apple-watch-save-lives

3rd October 2018

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