In other words: It’s a work in progress. In the meantime, the Apple Watch’s ECG app is a fun thing to play around with — AFib notifications excluded. Thanks to the ECG app, I now know that my heart rate is normal; the app classifies heart rhythm as either AFib, sinus rhythm (normal), or inconclusive. More importantly, I also know that my heart rate decreases when I pet my dogs, increases when we are about to publish a big story, and increases even more when I get an unexpected call from our editor-in-chief. I knew these things already, but it’s fun to have charts proving it.
The Watch Series 4, the only Apple device that can perform an ECG, starts at $399. That’s hardly a trivial sum. But it’s also significantly less than most any hospital-grade monitoring device in the medical world. And it’s a piece of equipment so small you could ostensibly lose it in a desk drawer.
That kind of engineering is truly a marvel — sobering, too. And in our current moment, where some tech behemoths are grappling with the unforeseen consequences of their creations, it’s something worth interrogating. As Weiss notes, the Apple Watch’s new heart-monitoring features could conceivably cause false positives and increased hospital visits; they could create currently unknowable ripple effects. There’s no question that the device is powerful and potentially revolutionary in its design, but the question these days is not whether these companies can engineer this stuff, but whether they’ve really, truly thought it through.
When I showed a doctor friend of mine a printout of some of ECG scans I did with the Apple Watch, he raised an eyebrow and did that thing where you sigh heavily and vibrate your lips. There’s a history of heart issues in my family, and it was clear there would be some calculus in his reply. “Don’t get preoccupied with these things,” he said. “But if you get a weird one, call me.”