Did Apple Watch save this patient's life? You be the judge.

Dan Diamond, Executive Editor

There are many reasons to be skeptical of the role that Apple Watch can play in health care. While some hospitals and doctors are crowing over the device's tracking and fitness features, others say that it caters to the worried well and doesn't offer enough functionalities. 

And by the ultimate measure of success—can Apple Watch save a patient's life?—I think the jury's still out.

But can Apple Watch help? Absolutely—and writer Neil Versel has uncovered one of the first real-world examples.

Writing at MedCity News, Versel has the story of Ken Robson, a 64-year-old Virginia man who had been visiting his son in San Diego when he fell ill. (Versel was tipped off thanks to a tweet from Eric Topol, the San Diego-based cardiologist and futurist.)

Already suffering from lightheadedness on his trip to California, Robson noticed—thanks to his Apple Watch's built-in heart monitor—that his heart rate had been consistently dropping into the 30s and 40s.

Will Apple Watch 'revolutionize' health care? Three reasons to be cautious.

Putting the pieces together, Robson suspected he had a heart arrhythmia called sick sinus syndrome and went to Scripps Mercy Hospital—where his self-diagnosis was confirmed.

The attending cardiologist used Robson's Apple Watch data to corroborate his experience, and doctors almost immediately implanted a pacemaker.

Those weeks of old data "certainly reduced my stay by a couple of days," Robson told MedCity News. For instance, he did not have to wear a heart monitor for a week before undergoing surgery.

It's worth noting that Apple Watch only accelerated Robson's date with doctors; he had planned a trip to the physician when he returned to Virginia. But given his symptoms, he had grown nervous about boarding a cross-country flight—and understandably so, given the unpredictable nature of some heart arrhythmias. (For instance, there can be a risk of sudden death.)

And while Robson's not sure if Apple Watch is a lifesaver, he's certain that it's a life changer.

"I think it’s slightly overstating it that it saved my life," Robson told MedCity News. "I would say it vastly improved my life much quicker than it would have otherwise."

Can Apple really 'transform' health care?

On a brand-new episode of the Weekly Briefing, Dan, Rivka Friedman, and Rob Lazerow discuss how Apple wants to change health care, and why so many companies are trying to "transform" health care.

You can listen to the show here or by clicking on the player below.

Subscribe on iTunes | Get the RSS feed | See the archive

Next in the Daily Briefing

Why checklists fail—and the three keys to making them succeed

Read now