The Lifesaving Apple Watch and Its Significance for Medical Students

Early in May 2018, CBS News told the story of Deanna Recktenwald. Deanna lived the life of a healthy teenage girl. Being a passionate athlete, she used her Apple Watch to track her heartbeat while she played sports. The function ran in the background while she was at home, but naturally she seldom felt the need to check her heart rate while resting! Then one day, while relaxing at home, her watch started vibrating, indicating that her heart rate had rocketed up to an astonishing and dangerous 190 beats per minute (bpm). Given that the normal resting heart rates for adults is somewhere between 60 and 100 bpm, Deanna was rightly alarmed. She called her mother, a nurse, who manually checked her pulse to confirm that the Apple Watch was indeed showing the correct rate. Deanna was rushed to hospital, where tests were conducted and it was discovered she lived with a hitherto undiagnosed condition, Alport syndrome, which was causing her kidneys to gradually shut down.

An Early Diagnosis That May Have Saved Her Life

Alport syndrome occurs in approximately 1 in 50,000 newborns. In addition to loss of kidney function – Deanna is likely to require a transplant when older – it can cause hearing loss and abnormalities of the eye. Thanks to the Apple Watch’s warning, Deanna was able to attain an early diagnosis, and will shortly be going off to university with essential new knowledge about her health. Her parents were understandably grateful, and contacted their local Apple Store to say thank you. To their surprise, their thank you note was responded to personally by Tim Cook, Apple’s CEO, who also shared the story on his Twitter, writing: “Stories like Deanna’s inspire us to dream bigger and push harder every day.” lifesaving_apple_watch 2

A Unique Lesson for Medical Students

There are many features about this episode which make it a compelling story, with lessons that medical students can learn from.  An interesting facet is that the heart rate monitor of the Apple Watch is not a central feature of the product, and it is by and large due to lucky chance that Deanna happened to be wearing it with that function enabled when she started experiencing her dramatic heart rate spike. Health monitoring smartphone apps help users take control of their diet, stay fit, track calories, perform complex yoga poses, and build strength. But what is particular to the Apple Watch case is that, due to its location over the pulse, it can easily track your heartbeat without an effort or manual input.

The Unintended Power of the Devices We Use

As our devices continue to gain more and more information about us, the processes that go on within our bodies but outside our regular awareness – such as heart rate and blood pressure – become more and more accessible, even for those without known medical conditions and the associated diagnostic equipment. Just like the Apple Watch’s unintended life-saving side effects, other technologies outside of the medical mainstream can be used to help patients and doctors alike. With QUPI.com, users can look forward to the addition of gamification, using science from the gaming world to make the question bank platform as fun and compelling as your average video game. Certainly more enjoyable than pouring over dusty textbooks! Now that devices like the Apple Watch are becoming more and more integrated not just into our lives, but into our bodies, it will be interested to see the effect this has on our health. Overall, this seems like a step in a positive direction.

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