Officially, in terms of emergency care, the Apple Watch watches for early warnings of atrial fibrillation (AF), unusual heart rates, and severe falls. You don’t have to look far to find examples of buyers claiming the Apple Watch saved their lives, and an unknown heart condition is usually diagnosed before symptoms become apparent.
But this week, the Apple Watch showed that it may have more medical functions than Apple realizes. The Apple Watch has managed to save another life — this time with a case that the watch hasn’t officially detected.
Blood clots in the lungs
Back in October, Ken Counihan’s Apple Watch warned him that his breathing was high — increasing from 14 breaths per minute to about 18 breaths per minute. Back to the ER.
With blood oxygen levels dropping into the mid-80s, Conihan underwent more tests, and this time doctors discovered blood clots in his lungs. This, it seems, is very dangerous and doctors have told him about 60% of people in his stage don’t make it through the night.
He said, “I have friends who have gone out and bought an Apple Watch as a result.” News 5 Cleveland. “I just had dinner with a friend last night and he’s looking forward to getting my Apple Watch now too. It saved my life. It’s amazing.”
Prediction of sickle cell anemia pain episodes
Meanwhile, A.J Stady from Duke University, Northwestern University, and others have shown evidence that the Apple Watch can help predict pain episodes for patients with sickle cell anemia.
Vaso-occlusive crises or VOCs often lead to hospitalization of sickle cell patients. It’s where sickled red blood cells impede circulation, which can cause organ damage, and it’s unpredictable when they’ll strike.
But the Apple Watch 3 — five generations behind the current model — was enough to predict the onset of pain in sickle cell patients. Between July and September 2021, researchers collected 15,683 data points from 20 sickle cell patients. This data was analyzed via a machine learning algorithm, and the most successful model predicted pain with an accuracy of 84.5%.
The study concluded, “This is a novel and feasible approach and offers a low-cost approach that could benefit clinicians and individuals with sickle cell disease in treating VOCs.”
More Apple Watch health sensors are coming
It’s great what can be learned from the array of sensors already in Apple Watches, but this may just be the beginning. We know Apple has been trying to crack blood glucose measurements to help diabetics for years — which could be a game-changer given the current cost of monitoring — but this is likely just the tip of the iceberg.
In 2021, Apple turns out to be Rockley Photonics’ largest customer. The company specializes in sensors that read multiple blood signals without the use of medical equipment, including lactate, alcohol, carbon monoxide, blood pressure, blood oxygen, core body temperature, glucose, and more.
While it’s unlikely we’ll ever get a wearable capable of measuring all of the above (who knows what that would do for price and battery life?) it’s exciting to think about what could be done with additional sensors in a wearable. Given the two examples above, the intended medicinal purposes could be just the beginning.