It was one of the most discussed features of the Apple Watch 4 when it was released last year. But it never made it to the Indian market. Until now. Beginning midnight, September 20, Indian users of the Apple Watch Series 4 can use its electrocardiogram (ECG) feature, capturing their heart rhythm.
Indian users will also be able to use the irregular rhythm notification on the Apple Watch, notifying them when there is a change in heart rhythm that appears to be a matter of concern. Both features are available along with the watchOS 6 update that has been rolled out to Apple Watches. It will, of course, be available on the update Apple Watch Series 4 and out of the box on the Apple Watch Series 5. Making this possible are electrodes built into the back crystal and the digital crown of the Apple Watch.
The absence of these features was a disappointment for many Apple Watch users in India as ECG was perhaps the USP of Apple Watch 4, and many who purchased the watch felt a little short-changed by its absence in India. Well, it has arrived now, and in best Apple tradition, using it is very easy indeed. You will need to activate the ECG option and the option to get irregular rhythm notifications on the Health app on your iPhone – you will be asked for your date of birth, if you are already using the Health app (if you aren’t, why on earth not) – and well, you are all set.
Taking your ECG recording is as simple as selecting the ECG option on your Apple Watch (yes, it appears there now) and then on the prompting from the watch, placing your finger on the crown of the Apple Watch. That’s all you have to do – do not move your finger or your arm – for thirty seconds. Putting your finger on the digital crown completes a circuit, and electronic signals from the user’s heart are measured. At the end of half a minute, you will be shown your ECG. It’s an incredibly quick process – we experienced no pause or lag on our Apple Watch 4.
Not just that, the watch will also tell you the state of your heart rhythm:
- A sinus rhythm would indicate the heart is beating normally
- An atrial fibrillation (AFib) would indicate that the heart rhythm is irregular.
- The watch will report an inconclusive reading when it finds the heart rate too high or low, or for any other reason.
In a neat touch, you can also export the ECG in the form of a PDF and send it to your doctor or anyone else for reference, or just save it for yourself (you can access it in the Books application). Activating the irregular rhythm notifications will allow the Watch to check your heart rhythms in the background, and report if anything is amiss. We assume that this is increase battery drain a little, although we have seen no remarkable change in our couple of days of using the feature.
Apple insists that the Apple Watch is not designed to detect heart attacks, but for most people, the ability to spot AFib is itself a massive plus. Left untreated, it can lead to a stroke. The Apple Watch already had the ability to spot a higher or lower than usual heart rate and send you a notification, but while this was a very handy feature, telling a doctor about it inevitably resulted in being asked to get an ECG test done, which meant visiting a laboratory. With this update, users have three powerful health indicators on their wrist – an irregular heartbeat notification, an indication of irregular heart rhythm and the ability to measure one’s heart rhythm at any point of time.
Sumbul Desai, MD, Apple’s Vice President of Health says that these features will “help users have more informed conversations with their physicians,” as well as enable users to “better understand aspects of their heart health in a more meaningful way.”
Speaking for myself, it could actually do just that. I have had a few instances of elevated heart rates, spotted by the Apple Watch. And in each case, almost an hour passed before I could get an ECG test, which I was inevitably asked to get done. I can now do the same literally within a minute of getting an alert, and send the report to the doctor (the Apple Watch has a respectable track record when it comes to accuracy).
Kind of empowering. And that is a heartfelt sentiment. Pun intended.