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The Apple Watch has been touted as a device that can improve health outcomes for its users, and we’ve heard countless stories of it doing just that. However, a recent story out of Ohio is particularly striking as it highlights how two metrics collected by the Apple Watch – respiratory rate and blood oxygen level – can work in tandem to alert users to potentially life-threatening health issues.
Ken Counihan, an avid Apple Watch user, relied on the device for workout and sleep tracking, among other things. Last October, he noticed that his respiratory rate was elevated, a metric that the Apple Watch can monitor while users sleep. Using the Health Trends feature of the Health app, which alerts users to changes in specific metrics, Counihan was notified of the change in his respiratory rate.
Concerned, he sought medical care and was diagnosed with bronchitis. Later that day, he received another alert from his Apple Watch – his blood oxygen level was falling, which is not normal for him. At the urging of his family, he went to the emergency room, where doctors ordered a CT scan that revealed blood clots in his lungs.
Counihan has been prescribed blood thinners and is now feeling much better. He credits the Apple Watch with saving his life, as doctors told him that if he had gone to bed instead of coming to the ER that night, he “may not have woken up the next morning”.
The blood oxygen feature of the Apple Watch is intended for general fitness and wellness purposes, according to Apple. However, this case demonstrates that the data collected can still be broadly useful as a reference point for other health issues. Dr. Lucy Franjic, an emergency medical physician at Cleveland Clinic, praised the Apple Watch’s ability to collect and provide valuable health data.
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“We do have patients that come in and they do notice these trends of ‘my heart rate’s higher than usual’ or ‘it’s showing me that… I’m having an abnormal rhythm’”, Franjic said. “And so having those pieces of information can kind of just help the physician to try and diagnose what the underlying issue is and to help prevent any life-threatening emergencies from occurring”.
This case also highlights the potential of wearables like the Apple Watch to provide users with valuable health insights. By collecting data on a variety of metrics, wearables can provide users with a more complete picture of their health and alert them to potential issues before they become serious. As wearables continue to evolve and become more sophisticated, we can expect to see even more exciting use cases like this one in the future.