Can You Use An Apple Watch As A Medical Alert Device?

Can You Use An Apple Watch As A Medical Alert Device?

Can You Use An Apple Watch As A Medical Alert Device?
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A watch can save your life. The $500 Apple Watch has saved lives many times, and a future in which smartwatches do so regularly may already be here. In this article, we look at how the Apple Watch can do a job that it wasn’t originally designed for: that of full-time medical alert device. Out of the box, the Apple Watch includes software that can send emergency alerts in certain scenarios. But it is capable of even more. We’ll also compare Apple Watch models and consider the limitations of the Apple Watch as a medical alert device.

Why Use a Smart Watch for Medical Alerts?

One big reason for using a watch as a medical alert is that it is unobtrusive. It can be on your wrist without your even noticing it. Many people have been wearing watches since childhood. Although mobile phones provide the same time-telling function, watches remain popular, especially as accessories. And now smartwatches are making the case for watch-wearing even stronger.

1. Smartwatches provide more utility than traditional watches.

Mobile phones made watches obsolete for the purpose of checking the time. Now smartwatches may be making your phone obsolete, at least when it comes to checking for phone calls, messages, and appointments. Although it does a lot more than an ordinary watch, a smartwatch feels just like one.

2. Older generations are more likely to wear watches anyway.

According to Consumer Watch Report, individuals between the ages 57 and 75 are more likely to wear a watch daily than younger people are. Since the elderly are also more likely to injure themselves by falling or to face any medical emergency, wearing a smartwatch is a great way for them to track their well-being.

3. Smartwatches blend in.

People of any age, though, not just older people, sometimes need to deal with medical emergencies, especially those who have a chronic medical condition. Many people going to school or an office could benefit from a medical alert device that measures a wide variety of vital signs without looking out of place, and that’s practically the definition of a smartwatch. An Apple Watch is sleek, attractive, unobtrusive, easy to slide under a cuff.

What Are the Medical Features of an Apple Watch?

As we go to press, Apple has three smartwatches for purchase: the Apple Watch Series 6, the Apple Watch SE, and the Apple Watch Series 3, starting at $529, $369, and $259, respectively. The Apple Watch Series 3 provides heart-rate notifications, irregular-rhythm notifications, and the Emergency SOS app; but it lacks other features and newer apps. You can also find used or refurbished older models.  Here’s a brief comparison of three Apple Watch models currently available at the Apple site.

Apple Watch 3

Apple Watch SE

Apple Watch 6

GPS only

$259

$329

$529

GPS and cellular

Not available

$429

$659

Blood oxygen app

No

No

Yes

ECG app

No

No

Yes

Heart rate notifications

Yes

Yes

Yes

Irregular heart rhythm

Yes

Yes

Yes

Fall detection

Yes

No

Yes

Emergency SOS

Yes

Yes

Yes

Emergency calling

No

Yes

Yes

In this review, we will look at only the Apple Watch Series 6, the model with the most medical and health-related features. Note: Some older models of the Apple Watch also include many health features and sensors. For instance, you can get the ECG sensor and automatic fall detection on Apple Watch 4 and newer models (with the exception of the SE model).

SOS Calling

The Apple Watch enables you to make emergency calls . There’s more than one way to do it. You can use the built-in voice assistant, Siri, to call anyone in your contact list hands-free. You can also press the side button of the watch to trigger an emergency 911 call.  In addition, the Apple Watch will automatically make an emergency 911 call if certain indicative circumstances are detected; e.g., if it fails to register any movement for a full minute after a hard fall.

Heart Monitor

Using its built-in sensors, the Apple Watch measures your heart rate and offers a variety of statistics, including your resting beats per minute (BPM) and BPM during and after strenuous activities like working out or running. You can set up the watch to send notifications when your BPM dips below a set limit or exceeds a set limit.

Heart ECG

An electrocardiogram or ECG is an extremely important tool for detecting heart problems before they become too severe. If you feel rapid, irregular, or skipped heartbeats, you can quickly take an ECG by placing your finger on the side of the watch. Using electrodes built into the crown, the Apple Watch can run a complete single-lead ECG of your heart rhythm in 30 seconds and detect signs of atrial fibrillation—i.e., of irregular or too fast or too slow heart rate.

Measuring Blood Oxygen

Using advanced LEDs and photodiodes, the Apple Watch can measure your blood oxygen in just 15 seconds. It can also measure blood oxygen when you are not active; for example, when you are sleeping.

Detecting Falls

Using gyroscopic sensors that measure acceleration, the Apple Watch can detect a hard fall. When it does, it vibrates, sounds an alarm, and prompts a message on the display asking if the wearer is okay. The prompt also includes an option to send an SOS call to emergency services. If the wearer doesn’t respond to the prompt within one minute, the Apple Watch automatically calls emergency services.

Limitations of the Apple Watch

The Apple Watch has done a lot to improve its capacity as a personal medical alert device. But significant limitations persist, two in particular.

No Professional Monitoring

The Apple Watch cannot be used for professional health monitoring. It does have many of the tools and functionality that professional facilities use. But it is primarily intended for personal use. If the Apple Watch does detect a medical emergency, it can make an emergency call to 911. But it won’t contact a professional healthcare provider.

May Be Unable to Transmit Your Location

Although the Apple Watch provides accurate location tracking, emergency services like 911 may still be unable to detect your location. Traditionally, emergency calls to 911 can be tracked only by using the GPS of a cell phone, and the wearer of the watch may not be near a cell phone. Perhaps emergency services will develop the technology required to track smartwatch locations. For now, though, verbal communication is the only sure-fire way to convey an exact location to 911 operators.

Best of Both Worlds: TELUS Health Companion on the Apple Watch

Apple’s smartwatch packs all of the technology required to be a revolutionary medical alert device. But it is not configured to reach its full potential from the outset.  It can reach that potential with the help of third-party apps like the TELUS Health Companion. The TELUS app is available to Canadians with a postpaid mobility plan and a subscription of $30/mo (billed annually). Alternatively, you can get a brand-new Apple Watch along with TELUS Health Companion for just $54 CAD per month on a two-year plan. Either way, Apple Watch users overcome the two biggest limitations of the Apple Watch and get comprehensive and professional healthcare monitoring.
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The TELUS app gives you 24/7 access to a live operator who is just a call away, and you can make the call from within the app. The team at TELUS has access to your vital signs in real time. The operators have over 300 hours of professional training in responding to medical and non-medical emergencies. They can contact family members to let them know you need help, and they can dispatch emergency services while providing your exact location.

How Viable Is the Apple Watch As a Medical Alert Device?

Apple has packed a lot of medical features into a smartwatch that also does much more. But its power as a medical alert device depends on how you use it. Let’s consider two major alternatives and the cost of setting them up, which includes the cost of the TELUS Health Companion subscription.  If you need the features of a smartwatch as well as all the medical features, paying $54 a month or $1,296 CAD for two years to obtain TELUS coverage is a good deal, especially when you consider that you’re getting a professional monitoring service with 24/7 live support. But what if you do not need all the features of a $550 smartwatch? Even then, the Apple Watch makes a lot of sense. If you save money by choosing the Apple Watch Series 3, it still has crucial medical features like automatic fall detection. Fall detection alone makes the smartwatch worth considering. A smartwatch can never replace human care and companionship. But it can save many lives when other people are not around to help. Indeed, it already has. The fact that human care can never be on the spot 24/7 makes this $500 dollar investment a very reasonable one.

Explore The Best Medical Alert Systems Available To Canadians

There are a number of medical alert systems providers in Canada, each promising to deliver peace of mind, independence and security. However, the quality of equipment, reliability and service delivery differ among them. We’ve researched dozens of companies to find the best providers of medical alert systems in Canada. Our expert reviews will provide you with everything you need to know to find the right system for you. Explore the best medical alert systems according to our editors.
The opinions expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and they do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of the providers being reviewed. The providers and WirelessWizard assume no responsibility or liability for any errors or omissions in the content of this site. The information contained in this site is provided on an “as is” basis with no guarantees of completeness, accuracy, usefulness or timeliness and without any warranties of any kind whatsoever, express or implied.
Under the banner Tech For Seniors, WirelessWizard is pleased to share innovations for older adults—with a focus on deferring as much as possible the time when getting older gets in the way of living life independently. Check out all of tech-for-seniors content here.
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