The new Watch matters more than the new iPhones

Why? Because I can think of three groups of people who would be directly invested in getting one asap:

  • The elderly
  • People with epilepsy
  • People with heart disease

For people in these groups (and that’s a lot of people) the Watch may well be such a lifesaver that price won’t be the major consideration. And it comes down to three new areas the Watch will provide data on: falls, atrial fibrillation, and ECG.

Falls in the elderly can mean fractures or even a stroke. In people with epilepsy falls can mean a seizure. Those are only two examples but they represent a large number of people. The Watch detects falls by tracking patterns of arm movement that can differentiate falling over from slipping up. When it detects a fall, it’ll deliver a hard fall alert which you can either dismiss or use to call emergency services. If you’re unresponsive up to a minute, it’ll automatically make the call and also message your emergency contacts.

The Watch also detects atrial fibrillations (AFib): the fast and irregular heartbeats experienced by over 30 million worldwide and which increase risk of strokes and heart attacks and dementia. I can see people with heart disease being interested in anything that could seriously add to their risk in this way.

Then they dropped the big one: ECG measurement.

I actually gave a shout.

ECG is basically a tracking of the heart’s electrical activity, shown in little graphs, that’s a vital aspect of heart medicine. Having it on hand like this (literally!) is a major breakthrough. Having it be able to record them so you can print out as a PDF is something else!

It’s the same degree of convenience that made glucometers so valuable for people with diabetes despite the (especially initially) loss of precision. And that’s how I viewed the announcement that the Watch‘s approval from the FDA and the endorsement from the American cardiologists: as an endorsement that the best ECG may be the one that actually alerts you to act on your health.

The Watch has already had lots of stories of how it’s saved lives. Clearly, those were just a prelude, because the new features take all of that to another level. And I was surprised that (at least initially) that didn’t make such a splash in the news as I would have expected: the focus was on the new iPhones. For me, the Watch was the hero of the event.

Apple focusing so keenly on Watch as a health-empowering device has proven smarter with every iteration: the company that transformed music and phones and created tablets is quietly revolutionising, not simply the watch, but healthcare, right under our noses. Interestingly, this wasn’t the initial vision for Watch: it’s something Apple sort of stumbled into. But when they did, they took its potential seriously.

And here we are.

Published by Doc Ayomide

I’m a medical doctor with specialty training in psychiatry, and I love thinking and writing about what it means to be human.

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