Apple Watch for First Aid

Is the Apple Watch The Future of First Aid?

As well as being this years must have gift, the Apple Watch has some serious health functionality. In its current form, the Apple Watch gathers the heart rate and activity of the wearer.

In the future, Apple hopes it will do more.

“Healthcare providers can deliver the best care when they have powerful, intuitive tools. The result is care that becomes more efficient, more personalized, and ultimately more human.” –

Apple and Aetna (an American insurance giant with 23 million customers) held secretive talks back in August 2017 to discuss the future of the Apple Watch, with features such as passive blood glucose monitoring discussed.

In a recent interview with CNBC, Tim Cook, CEO of Apple highlighted the health market as “the biggest one of all,” According to Cook, devices like the Apple Watch and services like Research Kit and the Health app are part of a market that’s “significantly underestimated.”

The hope (or hype) is that wearables and digital technology will transform healthcare by passively monitoring, proactively advising and even contacting a first aider in a medical emergency.

Technology and First Aid

Apple’s focus on healthcare has already saved lives.

It used to be the case that we were encouraged to add an “In Case of Emergency” or ICE number to our contact list. This would be the person we would want to be called if we were found unconscious or otherwise incapacitated.

However, as smart phones have taken over, that hold increasingly sensitive data, it is usual for them to be locked, and only accessible with a passcode, fingerprint or similar. So this renders the ICE number in your contact book useless.

We’ve published two blogs explaining how to get around this problem by adding Emergency Contact Information to your smart phone.

This one for Setting Up Emergency Contact information on iPhones, and this one for Android devices

Our First Aid Feature Requests (Nov 2017)

Increasing numbers of people are now wearing smart watches. Most now include accurate heart rate monitors, temperature sensors and more, as these become more reliable over time, we’d like to see some intelligent features added via the associated App:

  • Displaying a recent heart rate graph could show how a casualty’s pulse is behaving over time, a very useful indicator of a vital sign that is notoriously difficult to measure accurately as a lay person.  Shown in the Medical ID App, alongside temperature over time would put all the important information in one place.
  • Detecting a lower or stopped pulse rate and automatically displaying the Medical ID on the phone screen after a double check alert to ensure that the user hadn’t simply removed their watch.

These and many other potential features will be incredibly difficult to create in a reliable way, but the technology is mostly there, or will be soon.  Watch this space…. (Pun fully intended!)

Apple Watch Series 4 (May 2019)

We published this article back in 2017 – with the new release of Apple Watch Series 4 at the start of May 2019, much of the above has become reality.

New Feature: Real-time heart monitoring and ECG readings

The watch now claims to be able to give a live ECG reading on your watch or phone, via an ECG app. It does this through a new sensor in the ‘Digital Crown’ which along with the existing HR sensor on the wrist, completes the circuit between a wearer’s heart and both arms.

It claims to be able to show signs of Atrial Fibrillation, or normal Sinus Rhythm, which if true, and accurate, could be big news.

It also includes heart health notifications, which allow continuous monitoring and alerting the wearer to any irregularities.

New Feature: Emergency SOS call with Fall Detection

The other big addition is what Apple are calling Fall Detection, which uses the accelerometer and gyroscope to detect if the wearer has had a big fall – or more accurately, come to a sudden stop.

The watch will ask you if you are OK, and if you don’t respond within 60 an emergency call will automatically be made.

The Emergency SOS call function will call the emergency services, notify your emergency contacts, send out your current location, and display Medical ID badge on the screen. All this from the watch if it is network enabled, otherwise via your phone.

Our First Aid Feature Requests (May 2019)

With both of these new additions, the proof will be in the use, and in time we’ll know how reliable they turn out to be. However the simple act of adding a Medical ID badge to the screen in the case where the watch suspects a fall could be a real help for the first aider.

Will this Medical ID then show a live HR reading on opening? That would potentially be very clever.

As with any technology, it won’t replace regular high quality training, and consistent practice. And it can’t become something that we as first aiders rely on.

But if it can make the job of the by-stander or irregular first aider a little easier, then it has to be a good thing. We’ll continue to ‘watch’ this space!