Apple Watch already has 264 health apps, unused pulse ox functionality, and a hospital pilot

By Jonah Comstock
08:29 am
Mayo Clinic Synthesis Mayo Clinic's Apple Watch app for doctors

As the Apple Watch begins to find its way into the hands of consumers, it's also becoming clearer that there's a lot of interest in the health features of the device. On April 24th, the day the Apple Watch began shipping, MobiHealthNews found 264 Apple Watch apps related to health or fitness in the Apple AppStore, including apps from Humana, Cerner, the Mayo Clinic, athenahealth, and Walgreens, to name just a few.

Although a majority were fitness and workout apps, we found 13 apps related to medication adherence, 15 apps specifically for doctors or patients, 12 hydration tracking apps, and 13 apps for tracking fertility and/or pregnancy. And that was just on day one.

We're also learning more about the sensors in the device. The big (and often misinterpreted) news about Apple Watch's health features is that they were not what they could have been. The Wall Street Journal broke the story that Apple initially planned a much more ambitious health device, but concerns around accuracy and regulation stymied those plans. 

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After iFixIt dismantled the Apple Watch and posted a detailed summary of their findings, they discovered that some of those sensors are still in the device and could possibly be enabled by a future firmware update, namely the blood oxygenation sensor. The sensor uses photoplethysmography, as Apple revealed last week, and that same technology can be used to measure Sp02, especially if the device contains both green and infrared LEDs, which the Apple Watch does. So it's possible that, if Apple engineers crack the accuracy problems and/or obtain additional FDA clearance, pulse oximetry functionality could be enabled.

Finally, we're already seeing the first Apple Watch hospital deployments. Ochsner Health System in New Orleans, which already has a HealthKit integration and a genius bar-style app and device store for patients, is diving right into a pilot giving patients Apple Watches, according to Forbes.

The watch will be given to high blood pressure patients, who will use it for medication reminders as well as using the Watch's built-in fitness software to remind them to get enough exercise each day. Chief Clinical Transformation Officer Richard Milani told Forbes he plans to recruit two dozen patients and use the rest of Ochsner's existing HealthKit program as a control group to collect data about the effectiveness of the Watch specifically.

Ochsner's not alone. Last October, not long after Apple Watch was revealed, Springfield, Illinois-based Hospital Sisters Health System began recruiting for a pilot program to examine how nurses and physicians can integrate the Apple Watch into the medical group’s Advanced Medical Home program. When we spoke to HSHS last fall, of course, doctors were still expecting a fuller sensor suite.

"Our plan is to give [the Apple Watches] to our nurse navigators to take a look at, to use, to test, and to find out what information is there and compare it to ensure that it’s reliable so we know where the shortcomings are,” Dr. Andrew Bland, the Chief Quality Officer at HSHS said at the time. “I’ve seen some great apps demoed for the iPhone that allow you to take your own pulse rate or even measure your own oxygen saturation. I just want to make sure that as we’re giving medical advice that the data is reliable and we understand the shortfalls.”


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