One of the most-anticipated features of the Apple Watch Series 4, which was announced in September, was the ability to take a mobile electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG). Although the watch has had the needed hardware since it was launched, the software to back it up wasn’t released until Thursday. Apple officially calls it the ECG app, although many Americans may be more familiar with an EKG, which is simply another shorthand for the same test.
How to use the Apple Watch Series 4 EKG App
Apple released the required software for the EKG as part of the watchOS 5.1.2 update. The Apple Watch Series 4 EKG app is currently available only to U.S. users. It’s limited to the newest models because they have the necessary electrodes embedded in the back and electrical heart sensors in the crown.
Before using the Apple Watch Series 4 EKG app, you will have to complete the onetime onboarding process in the Health app and the ECG app. You also need to set up notifications. All this process will require switching between the iPhone’s Watch app, the iPhone’s Health app and of course the watch itself.
It must be noted that Apple’s ECG app is no substitute for a real EKG/ECG, and Apple makes this clear as well. However, the app may be helpful if you feel symptoms like an uneven heartbeat or if the watch has sent you a notification of about an irregularity in your heart rate.
Taking an ECG reading is pretty simple, and Apple should be credited with the ease of use. First, open the ECG app on your Apple Watch Series 4 and then rest the hand on the arm on which you are wearing the watch on a solid surface. Then press the index finger of your other hand against the Apple Watch’s crown for 30 seconds. You don’t have to hold down the crown; just touch it and stay still.
Occasionally, you may encounter an error like a poor reading. This may happen when the watch is not in proper contact with the wrist. When the reading has been successful, the watch’s screen will display the results. The most common reading is “sinus rhythm,” which simply means the heart is beating normally and that the watch has detected no irregularity in the heart rhythm.
“After 30 seconds, the heart rhythm is classified as either AFib, sinus rhythm or inconclusive,” Apple explained.
The watch also shares the results with the iPhone’s Health app, and you can share the findings with your doctor in a PDF file. Apple allows you to add any symptom to the report to help the doctor with your diagnosis, like shortness of breath or dizziness.
Checking for irregular heart rhythms using the Apple Watch
Apple’s watchOS 5.1.2 update also added another key feature, which is the ability to detect irregular heart rhythms. The feature helps identify atrial fibrillation, a common form of irregular heart rhythm. This new feature is available to all Apple Watch models, unlike the features found in the Apple Watch Series 4 EKG app.
To use the feature, first you need to update to the latest version of the watchOS software. Then go to the Watch app on the iPhone and scroll down to the heart health section, where you can enable notifications if the watch detects an irregular rhythm.
To complete the setup, you will have to enter your date of birth, and then the watch gives details on how the feature works internally. Apple also asks if you have already been diagnosed with atrial fibrillation.
Once the setup is complete, your Apple Watch will check for an irregular heart rhythm every two hours. However, you won’t get a notification every time the watch checks your heart rate. The watch only notifies you if it detects an irregularity five consecutive times. You can also set high and low levels for your heart rate, so if it breaches the set levels, the watch will notify you.
“With the ECG app and irregular rhythm notification feature, customers can now better understand aspects of their heart health in a more meaningful way,” said Dr. Sumbul Desai, Apple’s vice president of health.
Other similar products
Apple is not the first company to offer a consumer device with the EKG/ECG feature. In November 2017, AliveCor introduced a similar technology called the KardiaBand. These bands are compatible with older Apple Watch models.
However, the Apple Watch Series 4 EKG app is not dependent on these bands because it has the needed hardware built in. Also unlike AliveCor’s products, Apple’s ECG app does not require a subscription or a doctor’s involvement. AliveCor plans to come up with an updated version of its technology next year. The new technology will be a six-lead ECG reader, compared to the one-lead ECG reader used by Apple, reports CNN.