Yesterday I was a front seat passenger in a car driven by a friend. An exuberant friend, I have to say. I was holding on for grim life as we negotiated a particularly sharp bend when my Apple Watch began to beep. It was an unfamiliar beep, a continuous beep that got me worrying.
I lifted my left wrist and saw from the watch face that I was in countdown mode. The bomb was ticking. “It looks like you‘ve taken a hard fall,“ warned the Apple Watch. The device had started the countdown to making an SOS call for immediate assistance. Fortunately, I spied the “I fell but I‘m OK” button which I used to reassure the caring device that I didn‘t need an ambulance — yet.
This episode provided as painless a way of testing out the new fall-detection feature of the Apple Watch without actually falling on one‘s face in the mud. It didn‘t happen again, despite a few more interesting corners, but strangely I felt somewhat reassured to know that my wristwatch was looking out for me.
Health monitoring is fast becoming one of the most important reasons to choose a smart watch over the old Timex. The Apple Watch is already essential for me because it reliably tracks my heart rhythm. As someone who has a history of arrhythmia, which is not always obvious when it happens, I now rely on the Watch for alerts. So far, since I got my first heart-rate-monitoring Apple Watch some years ago, there have been no remarkable instances, but I am well aware that the risk is always there.
Fall detection is just another development and one which can be of great comfort for the elderly, especially if they are alone at home. The latest Series 4 Apple Watch (equipped with a cellular connection) can call 999, 911, 121 or whatever without your needing to be near a phone. If your watch doesn‘t have a cellular connection, you‘ll need to carry the phone around all the time — something I do when out and about but not always while at home. In this respect, if it is ultimate monitoring you desire, then the cellular Watch with its circa £5-a-month subscription, is the one to go for. It’s a small price to pay for the added confidence the system provides.
We are just at the start of health monitoring by wearable devices. For the moment, the cellular-equipped wrist watch is state of the art, but that could alter in the future.
I am wholly convinced of the benefits of health monitoring in this way. Very soon we will be able to take ECG readings via the iPhone. The facility is already available in the USA but not yet approved in other countries, including the UK. There are naysayers, of course. Those responsible for free state healthcare, for instance, worry that a horde of amateur ECGers will raise too many false alarms and put an undesirable strain on the service. This is as may be, but I believe it is better to have a hundred false alarms than one death. It will be a long time before millions are wearing Apple Watches and equivalents, but those of us who have already adopted the devices have a better chance of surviving if the worst happens.
Already we are hearing stories from all over the world of heart problems being flagged up by wearables. Almost every week we read of someone whose life has been saved by, in particular, the Apple Watch.
It is now an unstoppable trend, and I imagine that within a few years everyone with a diagnosed problem (and millions who don’t have a condition) will be told to get a watch monitor. I can even imagine smartwatches prescribed by doctors; they are likely to be more effective than even Norman Holter’s legendary snapshot device. Insurance companies understand the implications and in some instances are encouraging their policyholders to go out and buy a watch..
Call me a hypochondriac, but I am convinced that looking after your own health is the answer. All too often we hear of patients diagnosed when it is too late when earlier preventative action could have averted a crisis. Smart devices can’t detect cancer, nor can they yet assess blood sugar levels or other parameters, but they are currently on the ball with heart monitoring. The rest will follow, I am sure.
I am well aware that there is a tendency to dismiss all this technological assistance as, at best, pointless and, at worst, a means of feeding hypochondria. Others worry about health data being shared illegally through these apps. But I am prepared to take the risk. The Apple Watch is the future of health monitoring, and its capabilities will continue to expand.