Apple Watch Chief Jeff Williams Says ECG App is 'Huge Opportunity' to Empower People About Their Health

Apple today announced that its ECG app will be available on the Apple Watch Series 4 today as part of watchOS 5.1.2. Alongside that news, TIME has published a new interview with Apple's CEO Tim Cook and COO Jeff Williams.

ecg watch person
The article begins with a story about 46-year-old Texas resident Kevin Foley, who was having trouble breathing normally during a movie. Fortunately, since he was wearing an Apple Watch and participating in the recent Apple Heart Study, he was alerted to signs of an irregular heartbeat and went to the emergency room.

At the hospital, doctors hooked Foley up to an ECG machine and found signs of atrial fibrillation, an irregular heartbeat that can lead to stroke and other potentially fatal complications. Foley spent the next few days in the hospital while doctors worked to return him to a normal sinus heart rhythm and is doing fine now.

"Apple's largest contribution to mankind will be in improving people's health and well-being," Cook boldly proclaimed.

"We have tens of millions of watches on people's wrists, and we have hundreds of millions of phones in people's pockets," said Williams. "There's a huge opportunity to empower people with more information about their health. So this is something we view as not only an opportunity, but a responsibility of ours."

Williams also appeared on CBS This Morning today to talk about the ECG app. The YouTube video can only be streamed in the United States.


The report says a traditional hospital ECG is often referred to as a "12-lead" machine, as its 10 different electrodes provide information on 12 different areas of the heart. The new Apple Watch is the equivalent of only a single-lead device, but research suggests the ECG app is still very accurate.

In a press release, Apple said the accuracy of its ECG app was validated in a clinical trial with around 600 participants. The study found the ECG app on Apple Watch demonstrated 98.3 percent sensitivity in classifying atrial fibrillation:

Rhythm classification from a gold standard 12-lead ECG by a cardiologist was compared to the rhythm classification of a simultaneously collected ECG from the ECG app. The study found the ECG app on Apple Watch demonstrated 98.3 percent sensitivity in classifying AFib and 99.6 percent specificity in classifying sinus rhythm in classifiable recordings. In the study, 87.8 percent of recordings could be classified by the ECG app.

"The FDA has been very rigorous, and they should be," said Williams, referring to the Apple Watch's heart health features.

The article goes on to claim that some cardiologists and other experts have raised concerns that the Apple Watch's ECG feature is "unnecessary for the general population" and "could cause problems," including false positives.

"If everybody with an Apple Watch and an alert from an Apple Watch went to a heart-rhythm doctor that was super comfortable with this, then I think it would be O.K.," said Dr. John Mandrola, a cardiac electrophysiologist. "But there are going to be millions of people going to the doctor that in many cases will be just fine."

Apple responded that no medical test is 100 percent accurate, so some false positives are inevitable, according to the report. Moreover, the Apple Watch will only alert users to a potential heart-related problem if it detects five instances of what it considers a cardiovascular episode, including arrhythmia.

Importantly, in an internal document obtained by MacRumors, Apple cautioned that the ECG app is "not intended to be a diagnostic device or to replace traditional methods of diagnosis," and "should not be used to monitor or track disease state or change medication without first talking to a doctor."

To take an ECG reading from the Apple Watch, users will need to place a finger on the Digital Crown while wearing the watch. The reading is completed in 30 seconds, allowing users to determine whether their hearts are beating in a regular pattern or if there are signs of atrial fibrillation.

Irregular heart rhythm notifications will also be available on Apple Watch Series 1 through Series 4 models in watchOS 5.1.2.

Apple says the setup process for these heart health features will include details about who can use the features, what the features can and cannot do, what results users may get and how to interpret them, and instructions for what to do if users are feeling symptoms that require immediate medical attention.

watchOS 5.1.2 should be available through the Apple Watch app on a paired iPhone around 10:00 a.m. Pacific Time as usual. At launch, the ECG app will be limited to the U.S., but Apple is likely working to get regulatory clearance elsewhere.

Related Roundup: Apple Watch Series 6
Buyer's Guide: Apple Watch (Neutral)
Related Forum: Apple Watch

Top Rated Comments

groadyho Avatar
32 months ago
Tbh, this is just the beginning. Pretty cool stuff. Hypochondriacs unite
Score: 11 Votes (Like | Disagree)
yaxomoxay Avatar
32 months ago
Sadly, this is a gimmick feature.
As someone that had open heart surgery, I strongly resent this statement. Is the AW going to be THE main check-up tool? No. But it provides a level of flexibility and continuous availability that was not possible before - at least not without some "unnatural" intrusion such as a band. This is just a watch with an important functionality added.
And heck, I'd rather bother my doctor with a few false positives than risk missing an important true positive. You know, I pay him and he accepts the payment, which will include this type of services.
Score: 9 Votes (Like | Disagree)
AngerDanger Avatar
32 months ago
Well, he was hardly going to say, "The ECG barely works, and even if it did, I'm still not sure why anybody would actually use it. What are they even for? Getting hearts or something? The thing is, most people already have hearts."



Attachment Image
Score: 7 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Mtmspa Avatar
32 months ago
Sadly, this is a gimmick feature. The only thing it will do is freak people out and send them to cardiologists. I think cardiologists will get the most gain from this feature, as the number of people trying to see a cardiologist will increase exponentially. The EKG with two leads is useless. It tells you nothing. It's not bad for you; it just gives you no reliable information (good or bad). People who would take their EKG with an Apple Watch and pay attention to the results are already concerned about heir heart heath. Those who are not concerned, will not even waste time on this feature. Those who are concerned need to see a cardiologist and not rely on this gimmick.

Even when you see a cardiologist, the real 12-lead EKG tells you very little. I am in the process of being seen by a cardiologist the first time in my life. I had the real 12-lead EKG done, and it came back absolutely normal. Because of the symptoms that I have, the doctor ordered an Echo Cardiogram, which came back normal as well. Then, he ordered a stress test, and saw something that could point to a Coronary Arterial Disease, it is inconclusive, so more testing is needed. The next step is a non-invasive CTA (CT Angiogram), which has a 91-95% accuracy rate. After that, the most conclusive test is the the intrusive angiogram with a scope inserted through the arteries into the heart. That's how much testing is required to conclusively diagnose a heart condition.

An Apple Watch with two leads for EKG is a toy. I hope Apple will sell more Apple Watch Series 4 because of this gimmick, but personally, I chose to keep my Apple Watch Series 3. Frankly, I would prefer Apple improving the heart-rate monitor reliability in the Apple Watch, as the existing one has very low accuracy.
What are your qualifications for this rant?
Score: 7 Votes (Like | Disagree)
citysnaps Avatar
32 months ago
I bought a SEIKO watch in 1994 that had a built-in blood pressure monitor. It was a disaster.

No, but I have half a brain.
[doublepost=1544111585][/doublepost]
Never mind. I like it. I want Apple to sell more Apple watches. Really. I do. I'm a shareholder, and anything helps right now.
Thanks for the heads-up. Your views can then be safely ignored on this matter.
Score: 6 Votes (Like | Disagree)
citysnaps Avatar
32 months ago
Sadly, this is a gimmick feature. The only thing it will do is freak people out and send them to cardiologists. I think cardiologists will get the most gain from this feature, as the number of people trying to see a cardiologist will increase exponentially. The EKG with two leads is useless. It tells you nothing. It's not bad for you; it just gives you no reliable information (good or bad). People who would take their EKG with an Apple Watch and pay attention to the results are already concerned about heir heart heath. Those who are not concerned, will not even waste time on this feature. Those who are concerned need to see a cardiologist and not rely on this gimmick.

Even when you see a cardiologist, the real 12-lead EKG tells you very little. I am in the process of being seen by a cardiologist the first time in my life. I had the real 12-lead EKG done, and it came back absolutely normal. Because of the symptoms that I have, the doctor ordered an Echo Cardiogram, which came back normal as well. Then, he ordered a stress test, and saw something that could point to a Coronary Arterial Disease, it is inconclusive, so more testing is needed. The next step is a non-invasive CTA (CT Angiogram), which has a 91-95% accuracy rate. After that, the most conclusive test is the the intrusive angiogram with a scope inserted through the arteries into the heart. That's how much testing is required to conclusively diagnose a heart condition.

An Apple Watch with two leads for EKG is a toy. I hope Apple will sell more Apple Watch Series 4 because of this gimmick, but personally, I chose to keep my Apple Watch Series 3. Frankly, I would prefer Apple improving the heart-rate monitor reliability in the Apple Watch, as the existing one has very low accuracy.
Just curious...are you a medical doctor or medical research scientist?
Score: 5 Votes (Like | Disagree)

Top Stories

apple music change forever

Apple Music Teaser: 'Get Ready – Music is About to Change Forever'

Sunday May 16, 2021 2:39 pm PDT by
The Browse tab in the Music app across Apple's platforms has started displaying a prominent teaser hinting at an upcoming major announcement for Apple Music. Under the heading "Coming soon," the headline says "Get ready – music is about to change forever." An accompanying "Tune-In Video" simply shows an animated Apple Music logo. Rumors have indicated that Apple is preparing to launch a...
m1 ipad pro early customer

M1 iPad Pro Arrives Early for Lucky Customer

Saturday May 15, 2021 11:57 pm PDT by
Days ahead of their expected launch and seemingly before official review embargoes lift, one lucky customer has already gotten their hands on the brand new 12.9-inch M1 iPad Pro. Reddit User PeterDragon50 Posted on Reddit, u/PeterDragon50 has already received their 12.9-inch iPad Pro through retailer Nebraska Furniture Mart. The Reddit user says they placed their order when pre-orders...
AirPods Lineup Not Lossless Feature

AirPods, AirPods Max and AirPods Pro Don't Support Apple Music Lossless Audio

Monday May 17, 2021 10:44 am PDT by
Apple today announced that starting in June, Apple Music songs will be available to stream in Lossless and Hi-Resolution Lossless formats, but lossless audio won't be supported on the AirPods, AirPods Max, or AirPods Pro. Apple's Lossless Audio is encoded as Apple Lossless Audio Codec files, with lossless quality ranging from 16-bit 44.1 kHz playback to 24-bit 48 kHz playback and Hi-Res...
apple music spatial audio

Apple Music Launching Spatial Audio With Dolby Atmos and Lossless Audio in June at No Extra Cost

Monday May 17, 2021 6:06 am PDT by
Apple today announced that Apple Music will be gaining support for Spatial Audio with Dolby Atmos at no additional cost starting in June. At launch, Apple Music subscribers will have access to thousands of songs in Spatial Audio from artists like J Balvin, Gustavo Dudamel, Ariana Grande, Maroon 5, Kacey Musgraves, The Weeknd, and many others. Apple says this feature will provide a...
M2 MacBook Pros 10 Core Summer Feature

Redesigned MacBook Pro Models With 10-Core Apple Silicon Chip Said to Launch as Early as This Summer

Tuesday May 18, 2021 5:39 am PDT by
Apple plans to launch new 14-inch and 16-inch MacBook Pro models with an improved iteration of the M1 chip as early as this summer, according to Bloomberg's Mark Gurman. The new chip is said to include a 10-core CPU with eight high-performance cores and two energy-efficient cores, with 16-core or 32-core GPU options. Gurman said the next-generation Apple silicon chip will also support up to...
imac 2021 box

Apple's New 24-Inch iMac Shown Off in Early Unboxing

Monday May 17, 2021 8:18 pm PDT by
Update: The early unboxing video was taken down, but other unboxing and first impression videos are now available. The new 24-inch iMac doesn't officially launch until this Friday, May 21, but an early unboxing of the machine has been shared on YouTube. The iMac unboxing video was made private subsequent to this story. The video from Gadget Guy is in Cantonese, but it offers an up-close...
apple music logo

Apple Music Teaser References 'Hi-Res Lossless' and 'Dolby Atmos'

Sunday May 16, 2021 4:04 pm PDT by
Earlier today, Apple Music began teasing a special announcement with the tagline "Get Ready – Music is About to Change Forever." This teaser comes amid a rumor that Apple is preparing to announce the third-generation AirPods alongside a HiFi, or lossless audio streaming tier for Apple Music on Tuesday, May 18. Now, references to "Apple Lossless," "Free Lossless," "Hi-Res Lossless," and...
Beats Studio Buds feature 3

New 'Beats Studio Buds' Revealed in iOS and tvOS 14.6

Monday May 17, 2021 11:10 am PDT by
Apple is working on new wire-free in-ear Beats-branded earbuds, according to images in the tvOS 14.6 and iOS 14.6 betas that were found by MacRumors contributor Steve Moser. The Beats Studio Buds are unlike any prior Beats headphones that Apple has released as there is no ear wrap as with the Powerbeats Pro or a wire like the Powerbeats. The Beats Studio Buds are tiny in design and are...
iPhone Hi Fi Apple Music Feature

Apple Music Gaining Spatial Audio and Lossless Audio in iOS 14.6, Not All Tracks Supported at Launch

Monday May 17, 2021 8:29 am PDT by
Apple Music's incoming Spatial Audio with Dolby Atmos and Lossless Audio features will be available in June on devices running iOS 14.6, iPadOS 14.6, macOS 11.4, and tvOS 14.6 or later, according to Apple. Apple said thousands of tracks will be available in Spatial Audio with Dolby Atmos at no additional cost, with more added regularly. Already available on the AirPods Pro, Apple describes...
AirPods Lineup Feature Triad

Apple Music Dolby Atmos Compatible With All AirPods Models and Other Headphones

Monday May 17, 2021 6:54 am PDT by
Apple today announced that starting in June, Apple Music subscribers will have access to higher quality Lossless audio streaming, as well as Dolby Atmos, which replicates an immersive audio experience. Despite Spatial Audio for movies and TV shows being only available on the AirPods Pro and AirPods Max, Dolby Atmos for Apple Music, which Apple describes as creating an "immersive audio format ...