Apple has released its fifth update to the Apple Watch operating system, watchOS 5.2, which promises ECG reading functionality to customers in Europe.
On Wednesday, the iPad and iPhone maker said the update will give customers in 19 European countries, including Germany, France, Italy, Spain, and the United Kingdom -- alongside Hong Kong -- the ability to take electrocardiogram readings with the Apple Watch Series 4.
The ECG app used by the device is able to capture the rhythm of the heart and if a rapid beat, missed beats, or other irregularities are detected, such as an irregular heart rhythm that appears to be atrial fibrillation (AFib) or arrhythmia, this information can prove to be invaluable to doctors and other medical professionals in both diagnosing and monitoring heart diseases and conditions.
Left untreated, AFib can result in an increased risk of stroke. As ZDNet's Jason Perlow has previously documented in a potential life-and-death story, this technology can have real and true health benefits.
Apple says that in the new update, all the recordings, any associated classifications and any noted symptoms are stored in the iPhone's Health app. This information can then be saved in a .PDF format and sent to doctors for analysis.
The FDA-approved ECG app has now been cleared for use in Europe, having previously been restricted to the US and associated territories.
Electrodes have been embedded in the back crystal and Digital Crown on the Apple Watch Series 4. These electrodes connect to the ECG app to take readings similar to a traditional single-lead electrocardiogram. After 30 seconds of recording electrical signals across a wearer's heart, the app can differentiate between healthy pulses, AFib, or sinus rhythms, and will notify users if anything unusual warrants investigation.
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According to Apple, a clinical trial conducted with roughly 600 participants using the Apple Watch ECG app concluded that the app has a 98.3 percent sensitivity in classifying AFib and 99.6 percent accuracy in detecting sinus rhythms in comparison to a 12-lead ECG system commonly used by physicians.
The Apple Heart Study, a program between Apple and Stanford Medicine, was the first testbed for the irregular rhythm notification feature of the app. Over 400,000 individuals have participated, and resulted released in March 2019 revealed that roughly 0.5 percent of participants received irregular pulse notifications.
"We've seen the ECG app and irregular rhythm notifications on Apple Watch have meaningful impact on our customers across the United States," said Jeff Williams, Apple's chief operating officer. "We are excited to bring these features to customers in Europe and Hong Kong, giving them access to empowering information about their heart health."
The watchOS 5.2 update is now available. In order to take advantage of the new features, however, Apple users must also upgrade their iPhones to iOS 12.2.