Apple Watch is now fulfilling its promise to let people take EKGs of their heart and notify them of any irregular heartbeat.
Apple announced the heart features in September, but didn’t make them available until Thursday. The new features have been given clearance by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and are for U.S. customers only.
“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.”
“We are confident in the ability of these features to help users have more informed conversations with their physicians,” said Sumbul Desai, MD, 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 watch can intermittently check the wearer’s heart rhythm in the background and send a notification if it detects irregular heart rhythm. That can point to atrial fibrillation, a condition that can increase the risk of stroke and other complications. Apple says the watch will notify users if it detects an irregular rhythm on five checks over at least 65 minutes.
When symptoms appear, users can also take an EKG, or electrocardiogram, and share that with doctors. This feature is available for the latest, Series 4 version of the watch. The app, called ECG, comes as part of a free software update for the watch.
The irregular heart notification is available for older models, too, starting with the “Series 1” model in 2016. It doesn’t work with the original, 2015 model.
Apple is adding medical features to make the watch feel more useful to people. A fall detection feature launched in September. It claims to be able to tell the difference between a trip and a fall — and when the latter occurs, it will suggest calling 911 (or the equivalent outside the U.S.). If it receives no response within a minute, the watch will automatically place an emergency call and message friends and family designated as emergency contacts.
“The role that technology plays in allowing patients to capture meaningful data about what’s happening with their heart, right when it’s happening, like the functionality of an on-demand ECG, could be significant in new clinical care models and shared decision making between people and their healthcare providers,” said Nancy Brown, CEO of the American Heart Association, the world’s leading voluntary organization focused on heart and brain health. “At the American Heart Association, we are committed to educating and empowering people to be proactive in all areas of their heart health and general well-being.”