What Does the New Apple Watch Mean for The Healthcare Industry?

The Food & Drug Administration (FDA) says the new Apple Watch Series 4 is an approved medical device. While that doesn’t mean Siri can give an Apple Watch user mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, it does mean that Apple is more firmly moving into the healthcare space with some new tools for improving the well being of their customers.

The author of a new ZDNet article says these features are the real deal – and they saved him from a potential stroke.

Enhanced Apple Features

Healthcare IT News reported in September that the upcoming iteration of the Apple Watch Service 4 offers enhanced healthcare features including atrial fibrillation (Afib) detection and electrocardiogram (ECG) capabilities. The watch has a sensor to detect if you’ve fallen and can connect you to emergency services. The display is larger and the speaker is 50 percent louder, and it is these last features that signal Apple’s move into the lucrative senior healthcare market.

From a pure profit perspective, this new focus makes sense; by 2030, 78 million Baby Boomers will be over 65 years old. That’s one in five American citizens at or over retirement age in just over a decade.

The release of the new version of the Apple Watch opens the door for the company to diversify its product base by becoming an integral part of the patient-centered health practice of the future. This means the watch can potentially move up three vertical markets by operating simultaneously as a desirable gadget for tech nerds, a wearable exercise and wellness device, and as a genuine aid for telehealth applications.

But what kind of scenario would warrant using the Apple Watch Series 4 as a medical device?

Apple Watch Applications and Implications

ZDNet technology reporter Jason Perlow was invited to participate in a beta test of the new Apple Watch via the Apple Heart Study conducted by Stanford Medicine, one of the precursor trials for FDA approval. He was shocked to receive a notice that he was having irregular heart rhythms. Following the app’s instructions, he conducted a telemedicine visit with a doctor. He found out an atrial fibrillation is no joke – it can lead to stroke or heart failure. After some more detailed monitoring and an echocardiogram, it was determined he did not have heart disease, but that the left atrium had some enlargement. The writer underwent a medical procedure to correct the afib and is doing fine.

Ironically, the writer was highly skeptical of Apple as a company. But after the Apple Watch detected his heart ailment, he stated, “I’ve decided I will be an Apple Watch customer as long as that product exists.” His statement is illustrative of the kind of loyalty these devices will warrant with customers.

However, clinicians are wondering what they’ll do with all the data generated by the new Apple Watch Series 4, and how payment reimbursement for analyzing watch data will occur.

For hospitals and health systems, the tool could engage patients more thoroughly in their own health. One doctor said, “Putting patient’s health data in the hands of the engaged and educated patients is a game changer.”

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