Apple Watch ECG feature available in NZ next week

Apple Watch ECG feature available in NZ late March, 2020.
Photo credit: Apple

Kiwis wanting to monitor heart health are finally to get access to the electrocardiogram (ECG) feature on the Apple Watch.

An ECG is a medical test that reveals abnormalities such as irregular heart rhythm in a person's heart. It does this by measuring the electrical activity generated by the heart as it contracts, usually through 12 small electrode patches attached to a patient's chest, arms and legs. 

The much-touted ECG app, available in Apple Watch Series 4 and later models, has been available overseas since 2018 but will only work here from next week.

It uses electrodes in the watch so wearers can take an electrocardiogram from the wrist, capturing heart rhythm in a moment when they experience symptoms like a rapid or skipped heartbeat.

The irregular rhythm notification feature on Apple Watch Series 1 or later will also occasionally check heart rhythms in the background and send a notification if an irregular heart rhythm that appears to be atrial fibrillation is identified.

The two used together could help people identify signs of AFib, the most common form of irregular rhythm which - if left untreated - can result in a stroke.

Apple Watch ECG feature available in NZ late March, 2020.
Photo credit: Apple

"We are confident in the ability of these features to help users have more informed conversations with their physicians," said Sumbul Desai, Apple's vice president of health.

In a phone interview with Newshub ahead of next week's New Zealand launch, she explained how the ECG app's ability to accurately classify an ECG recording into AFib and sinus rhythm was validated in a clinical trial of around 600 participants.

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 ECG app basically demonstrated a 98.3 percent sensitivity in classing atrial fibrillation as compared to a 12 lead ECG and 99.6 percent specificity in classifying normal sinus rhythm as compared to ECG," she said.

Apple has also had some great success stories from watch wearers such as the marathon runner who got a warning for atrial fibrillation. He later learned he needed open-heart surgery to repair a valve in his heart.  

As for the long wait in getting the features to Kiwi watch wearers? Apple explained it wanted to ensure its customer support had trained medical advisors on hand first.

New Zealand is, for once, ahead of Australia in getting the features.

Installing them will involve a software update for the watch next week, then a set-up process including information on how to interpret the results.

Apple does suggest that wearers don’t take ECG readings multiple times in a row or when not feeling symptoms. The feature is intended to be used when symptoms are present, like a rapid or skipped heartbeat.

MacBook Air updates announced in March, 2020.
Photo credit: Apple

In other Apple news, the company announced quietly amidst all the global coronavirus coverage there's been a long-awaited update to the MacBook Air. Features include a new Magic keyboard and twice the storage.

There's also a lower price - it's expected to retail for NZ$1799.

Meanwhile the new Apple iPad Pro adds trackpad support, an ultra-wide camera, studio-quality microphones and an LiDAR scanner. The latter gives the system depth-sensing capabilities with a particular focus on creating and consuming augmented reality (AR) experiences.

It's set to go on sale here starting from NZ$1499 pre-orders available before the devices are released in stores next week.