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In Apple’s world, you’d die without its watch

Wednesday’s Apple event began with a warning. A video montage at the start of the event highlighted times when people in emergency situations saved their lives through the Apple Watch. They used it to call 911 and make phone calls. This has flagged dangerous heart conditions. Without the watch, they may not have made it out alive. Meaning: Without a watch, you It may not be alive.

Apple has been making strides toward that kind of messaging since the beginning. At the first launch in 2014, Tim Cook called the Apple Watch a health device. In 2018, when Apple introduced a feature that detects irregular heart rates, Cook called the Watch a life saver. Now, instead of pitching the watch as a life-saving item, it’s designed to be something people can’t live without.

The anecdotes used to back up the messaging in the videos — people whose watches warned them of heart problems or helping them out of trouble — are worth paying attention to. Real people get help from Apple Watches in times of emergency. But Apple is bundling active safety features — like crash detection or the ability to make emergency calls from the wrist — with passive health monitoring features. And there’s still no clear evidence that the health features in Apple Watches can keep people healthier overall.

For example, take the heart rhythm feature. It is flagged when people have abnormal heart rhythms that indicate a condition that increases the risk of heart attack, stroke or heart failure. It’s great to do that. But catching atrial fibrillation or another type of abnormal heart rhythm isn’t the same as preventing a stroke. According to a study from 2020, most people who receive a cardiac alert from their Apple Watch do not recognize a cardiac condition. But testing alerts can take up time and resources in the healthcare system, and the process is like this. Patients are worried. And people too do Having a true, abnormal heart rhythm, according to a separate study from this past March, doctors can’t do much about it.

“It’s worrisome for people who are diagnosed, and if there’s no treatment, you’re not going to get much benefit,” said study author Josh Pevnik, MD, co-director of the department of informatics at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. to the edge.

Apple also didn’t say whether any other health-related features on the Apple Watch could actively improve anyone’s health. The watch has a feature that can detect blood oxygen levels, but the monitor has not been cleared as a medical device by the Food and Drug Administration. Apple makes no claims that it can keep people safe. For example, if one contracts COVID-19, this does not mean that the wearer cannot use the watch. But if they do, it’s unlikely to be a lifesaver: of the edge The review found it not very reliable and hard on the wrist Spot to get accurate blood oxygen readings.

Even low oxygen readings should not be the trigger people use to take a health problem seriously. “No one should wait until their pulse-bull goes down before calling their doctor,” says Albert Rizzo, chief medical officer of the American Lung Association. The Washington Post.

The newest health sensor on the Apple Watch Series 8 is a temperature monitor, which is initially used to predict when someone is ovulating. It might as well be Help establish a wearer’s personal temperature baseline — everyone’s temperature is “normal,” says epidemiologist Jennifer Radin of the Division of Digital Medicine at the Scripps Research Translational Institute. Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, researchers have also been testing whether signs on wearables can detect when people are getting sick. She said the temperature data watch could detect any future illness.

But like a blood oxygen monitor, it’s not an FDA-cleared medical device, so Apple makes no claims about its ability to detect or diagnose a medical condition. Also, like a blood oxygen monitor, it can struggle with accuracy, Radin said. As Fitbit users have seen, the wrist is a tricky place to take a temperature. (Some Fitbit models, such as the Fitbit Sense and Fitbit Charge 4, have temperature sensors). Radin, for example, said the Fitbit read cooler body temperatures when she was in cold rooms — even though the outside temperature had little effect on body temperature.

There is the fact that the benefits of this technology may be unevenly distributed. Health features on wearables are generally less accurate on people with darker skin. Research shows that the light sensors used to do things like track heart rate on the Apple Watch don’t work as well on darker skin tones. Fingertip blood oxygen monitors are less accurate on darker skin, and oxygen monitors built into smartwatches perform similarly. So even if these features save lives, white people are more likely to benefit from them than people of color.

It could be a good marketing ploy to make people think they need to spend hundreds of dollars on an Apple Watch to keep themselves safe. A fear-inducing presentation Apple Watch seemed to be the only thing standing between people and disaster. It is no longer presented as a fitness device or a curiosity or a way to learn more about yourself. No, now, it’s a must-have. That’s a high bar — and it hasn’t been met yet.

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