- The Apple Watch Series 7, which is set for release later this fall, and the new watchOS 8 include a number of new and enhanced health and wellness features.
- The new smartwatch will continue to include an ECG for monitoring heart health as well as a blood oxygen monitor.
- While the existing ECG did receive Food and Drug Administration clearance, the blood oxygen monitor did not.
- Health experts say while the data collected from wearable devices is helpful for both patients and doctors, they are not a replacement for medical-grade devices.
When Apple releases its Watch Series 7 later this fall, expect to see some new health features as well as the continued ability to measure your blood oxygen level and check your heart with an electrocardiogram (ECG) anytime you desire.
Apple’s new watchOS 8, which was released earlier today, also boasts features including 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 a healthy life,” stating that it can be used to provide your doctor with important information about your heart health.
But how true is this claim?
Healthline spoke with Dr. Edo Paz, vice president of medical at K Health and a cardiologist at Heartbeat Health, and Dr. Aeshita Dwivedi, assistant professor at Donald and Barbara Zucker School of Medicine at Hofstra and cardiologist at Northwell Health, to get the expert’s perspective on how good the Apple Watch Series 7’s health features really are.
According to Apple’s marketing materials, the ECG app is capable of generating an ECG that’s similar to a single-lead ECG used by medical professionals.
This test is used to record the timing and strength of the electrical signals made when the heart beats.
Doctors can use an ECG to learn about your heart rhythm 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 whether there are signs of atrial fibrillation, a type of irregular heart rhythm, or whether your heart is beating in a normal pattern (sinus rhythm).
Apple calls its blood oxygen sensor and app “revolutionary.”
According to marketing materials, the sensor uses four clusters of green, red, and infrared LEDS, along with four photodiodes on the back crystal of the watch, to measure light reflected back from blood.
The watch then uses a custom algorithm within the app to measure blood oxygen levels between 70 and 100 percent.
Knowing your blood oxygen level tells you how well your lungs are doing at taking in oxygen.
Apple is marketing this as a wellness feature rather than for medical monitoring.
According to both Paz and Dwivedi, when Apple introduced the ECG in its Apple Watch 6, it received Food and Drug Administration (FDA) clearance. The blood oxygen sensor did not.
So, why the difference?
It really comes down to the intended purpose of the device.
Since Apple was marketing the ECG as a tool for monitoring health conditions, the company had to prove it worked for its intended purpose.
If it’s being marketed as a “wellness” feature — like the
“Many wearable devices are available on the market to track health information like heart rate, heart rhythm, and blood oxygen monitors. While these devices may provide supplemental information, the accuracy of these devices remains unpredictable,” Dwivedi said.
“Most of the devices are not approved by the FDA. This means that the companies are not obliged to study reliability or the validity of their devices and how it compares 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 routinely reviews data that patients collect at home from devices like the Apple Watch.
“For instance, if a patient has palpitations (a sensation of fast or irregular heartbeats), they could do a spot recording on the Apple Watch ECG sensor,” he explained.
“Apple’s watch… got FDA [clearance] for ECG monitoring and detection of atrial fibrillation. The company has studied this feature in clinical trials and published data demonstrating a reasonable accuracy of the device for detecting atrial fibrillation,” Dwivedi added.
However, both experts agree that definitive diagnosis of an abnormal heart rhythm would require the use of a medical-grade ECG device.
Paz noted there’s no accuracy data for the blood oxygen sensor that he’s aware of. However, he said the wrist technique is generally less accurate than the typical technique of measuring blood oxygen using a fingertip sensor.
But Paz said he still thinks there are opportunities for certain people to leverage the blood oxygen data, as long as they do so under the care of their physician.
In addition to the watch’s built-in technology for health monitoring, certain health features within the operating system itself are being updated with the upcoming release of watchOS 8.
The popular Breathe app has been updated with new visualizations and tips, and is renamed “Mindfulness.” Its goal, according to Apple, is to help you “focus, center, and connect as you breathe.”
The refreshed app also introduces a new type of session called “Reflect.”
Reflect sessions are brief interludes, as short as a minute, that are designed to be completed anytime, anywhere.
Each session offers the user a single, positive thought to focus on. For example: “Reflect on one thing you’re grateful for and think about why you appreciate it so much.”
The Apple Watch can also help you track and improve the quality of your sleep.
In addition to allowing you to set a pre-bedtime routine, it’s also able to track such metrics as time asleep, heart rate, blood oxygen, and sleeping respiratory rate (how many breaths you take per minute).
To track these variables, it makes use of several features of the watch, including the various sensors as well as the built-in accelerometer.
All this information, along with trends over time, can be viewed within the Health app on your iPhone.
The Apple Watch now offers automatic detection when you’re riding a bike, prompting you to start a workout. It’s additionally capable of detecting when you take a break and when you resume your workout.
Apple has also added Pilates and tai chi to its roster of workouts.
Purchasing a watch will also give you a 3-month free subscription to Apple’s Fitness+, a service that’s entirely based around 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 an in-progress workout on any device.
It will also soon be featuring popular fitness experts and musical artists in its workouts.
To keep you safe, the Apple Watch will soon be offering fall detection for workouts. If the watch detects a hard fall during your workout, it will automatically generate a call for help.