OCT 25, 2021 / Apple

Apple Watch adds ECG in Australia: Here’s how to use it

In Australia, the vast majority of smartphones sold are tied either to Apple or Samsung. Everyone else in a brand sense runs a very distant third. Smartphones are very well established as a category, but they’re linked very closely to smart watches that pair with them. Again, the same kinds of trends emerge, with research suggesting that around 2.5 million smart wearables – a category dominated by smart watches – were sold in the second half of 2020, according to Telsyte’s Australian Smartphone & Wearable Devices Market Study 2021.

Of those, Apple has a commanding market lead, with its Apple Watch long being favoured by Australians for its style as much as its feature set. However, there’s one feature that has been notably absent in Australian Apple Watches, even though it’s been in the hardware since 2018. That’s the ability to take an electrocardiograph (ECG) directly from the watch itself. If you’ve ever had a hospital visit where they stuck lots of sensors on your chest, chances are good that (amongst other details) they were taking an ECG to monitor for unusual heart rhythms.

The Apple Watch ECG does that, but because that’s a regulated medical function, it had to pass through the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) guidelines first. It’s hard to say precisely why it took so long – reports from mid-last year suggest that Apple simply hadn’t presented it to the TGA for approval yet for reasons as yet unknown.

However, with the most recent updates to iOS, the operating system that runs iPhones, and the Apple Watch itself, which runs on watchOS, Australians can use the Apple Watch to run a basic ECG on themselves. Here’s how you do it, and what you’ll need.

It’s worth noting that not every Apple Watch is ECG-ready, above and beyond watchOS upgrades. You need to have an Apple Watch Series 4 or newer, so older Apple Watch owners are plumb out of luck here. Apple simply didn’t add that ECG hardware until the Series 4 watches came out in 2018. Your Apple Watch will need to be updated to WatchOS 7.4, which you manage via the Watch app on your iPhone.

You’ll also need an Apple iPhone capable of running iOS 14.5, which is basically an iPhone 6s or newer. Make sure that both your Apple Watch and iPhone are up to date via software update, and you should then be able to set up the ECG function via the Health app on the paired iPhone. It’ll typically ask for your date of birth, as well as other details if you haven’t already configured the Health app before.

Once that’s done, you should then have a little ECG icon amongst your apps on the Apple Watch. It looks much like a heartbeat monitor graph as an icon. Tap on it, and you should be told to put a finger on the digital crown of the Apple Watch, and to wait for 30 seconds.

That process will run an ECG via your Apple Watch, but it’s really important to know the limitations here. The Apple Watch can’t detect in and of itself a heart attack, or a blood clot. While it’s had to be certified for use in Australia, it’s not a precision medical instrument in the way that hospital machines are. What it’s useful for is a longer term view of your heart health, and in terms of an ECG, that’s to do with your heart rhythm. If it detects something wrong, you should seek more qualified medical advice, and naturally, if you feel something’s wrong even if the Apple Watch isn’t detecting anything, that’s not bad advice either.

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Alex Kidman
Tech Journalist