Page Reviewed / Updated – October 02, 2020

Medical alert systems allow seniors and those with chronic health conditions to receive help when they need it. These apps track the location of the wearer, are sensitive enough to detect whether someone falls and can call emergency aid even if the wearer isn’t able to get to a phone. The Apple Watch incorporates smartwatch technology with the qualities of a wearable medical alert device.

Wearable medical alert devices allow the owners to enjoy more independence and give their families and friends reassurance that their loved one has consistent access to help. Being able to contact emergency services without having to locate a phone allows those with certain health conditions, such as a risk of heart attack or stroke or those susceptible to falls, to engage in their chosen activities and visit their favorite places knowing that they have constant access to a monitoring system and EMS. Plus, many wearable medical alert devices, such as the Apple Watch, are also equipped with GPS, which is especially helpful for seniors who are prone to wandering.

The Apple Watch, released in 2015, is designed to be a fitness tracker and is equipped to work with other Apple devices and iOS software. The watch can sync to a cell phone or tablet and uses cellular technology (via AT&T access) to communicate. Using the watch as a medical alert device, the wearer can opt to contact a friend or family member if they need assistance but aren’t in enough trouble to warrant emergency medical services. The Apple Watch has an emergency SOS alert feature and is equipped for fall detection. There’s also an option for an interactive fall detection app.

The Apple Watch Medical Alert: What You Should Know

Apple technology and the iOS wearable and smart devices are known worldwide. The company uses proprietary software that allows all Apple devices users to communicate with each other seamlessly. The Apple Watch can connect to a wearer’s cell phone but doesn’t require an Apple phone for service.

The Apple Watch has a fitness tracker for wheelchair users, as well as various apps for overall health, such as a mindfulness app for meditation and apps that encourage users to share their activity socially. These watches also have Siri installed, allowing the user to operate the watch using voice commands. This may be very helpful for wearers who may be in trouble and unable to manually operate the watch to ask for help. The watch is also equipped with hard fall detection, which automatically contacts emergency services if the wearer is immobile for more than a minute.

Another feature of the Apple Watch’s medical alert services is Elder GPS location, which sends the location of the wearer to five user-designated contacts. These contacts also have access to the wearer’s heart rate, the battery life of the watch and status updates from a central monitoring system.

Apple Watches 5 and 3 series also have fall detection software, although the series 5 version allows the wearer to indicate whether they need medical assistance or if they are ok, simply by selecting one of the two options. The series 3 automatically calls emergency services if a fall is detected.

There are a couple of drawbacks to using the Apple Watch as a medical alert device. While the watch itself doesn’t require a smartphone pairing to act as an emergency medical alert device, in order to fully access the features and benefits of the health tracking aspect of the watch, a compatible iPhone is necessary. The watch operates using cell towers and cellular technology, so for it to communicate effectively, the wearer needs to be in an AT&T coverage area. Plus, the device must be charged daily, which may be problematic for seniors who are prone to forgetfulness.

We’ve compared the two Apple Watches currently on the market, the Apple Watch 5 and Apple Watch 3 in this table.

Category Side-By-Side Comparison Apple 5 Watch Apple 3 Watch
GPS + Cellular $499 $299
DISPLAY Retina activation Always on Phone activates when the wrist is raised
APPEARANCE Materials and finishes Aluminum Stainless Steel Ceramic Titanium Aluminum
Interchangeable bands Yes, plus third-party compatibility Yes, plus third-party compatibility
Finish colors Gold, Silver, Grey, Black and Ceramic Silver and Grey
HEALTH AND SAFETY INFORMATION Heart health High and low heart rate notifications Irregular heart rhythm notification ECG app Electrical heart sensor Optical heart sensor High and low heart rate notifications Irregular heart rhythm notification Optical heart sensor
Safety and emergency Emergency SOS Fall detection International emergency calling Emergency SOS
LOCATION AND CONNECTIVITY SERVICES Cellular connectivity on GPS + Cellular models GPS Compass Cellular connectivity on GPS + Cellular models GPS
TECHNOLOGY Dual-core S5 chip Digital Crown with haptic feedback Dual-core S3 chip Digital Crown
POWER Built-in rechargeable lithium-ion battery Up to 18 hours Built-in rechargeable lithium-ion battery Up to 18 hours
Magnetic charging cable Magnetic charging cable
USB power adapter USB power adapter on GPS + Cellular model only
DISPLAY OPTIONS Size 1 44 millimeters 368 x 448 pixels 977 square millimeters display area Over 30% larger display than Series 3 42 millimeters 312 x 390 pixels 740 square millimeters display area
Size 2 40 millimeters 324 x 394 pixels 759 square millimeters display area ‏ Over 30% larger display than Series 3 38 millimeters 272 x 340 pixels 563 square millimeters display area
Appearance Always-On Retina LTPO OLED display with Force Touch 1000 nits brightness Retina OLED display with Force Touch 1000 nits brightness

Apple Watch Medical Alert Plans, Pricing and Cost

Because Apple Watches operate using cellular technology and are part of the Apple family of products, users may simply add the device to their existing cell phone plan. The terms and conditions of these mobile plans can vary according to the carrier. However, Apple Watches as stand-alone technology and wearable medical equipment use AT&T coverage to communicate with the owner’s pre-loaded contacts and local emergency services.

The Apple Watch must be purchased, not leased as part of a monthly subscription program like many wearable medical alert devices. Users may choose to add the watch to their cellular plan and make monthly payments or simply purchase outright. Therefore, the monthly cost of an Apple Watch as a medical alert device will vary greatly.

The Apple Watch 3 starts at $199, while the deluxe model of the Apple Watch 5 is $499.

Pros and Cons of the Apple Watch Medical Alert

Apple is one of the most innovative tech companies in the world, and as such is constantly refining and improving its devices, user-friendliness and connectivity. Each iteration of the Apple Watch has extras and features that enhance the user experience and add life-enhancing applications. Plus, as a global brand, Apple technology may be used in any country that has appropriate cell coverage.

However, the Apple Watch wasn’t primarily designed to be a wearable medical alert device and has some challenges for users who may rely on wearable medical technology. When contemplating using an Apple Watch as a medical alert technology, it’s important to weigh the advantages and disadvantages.

Apple Watch Medical Alert Pros

  • GPS tracker is built in.
  • There are two sizes of screens; the larger one is easy to read.
  • No cell phone service is necessary for the GPS + cellular versions.
  • There are many designs to suit any aesthetic.
  • It doesn’t look like a medical alert device, which may be more appealing for certain users.
  • Different health and activity tracking apps are available for installation.
  • It’s waterproof, safe for showers and pools.
  • Two-way phone calling is available through the integrated speaker.
  • Texting is available.

Apple Watch Medical Alert Cons

  • The devices can be pricey, ranging up to almost $500 for the latest model.
  • There’s no 24/7 monitoring system or call center for users.
  • The watch must be charged daily, which could be troublesome for forgetful wearers.
  • An Apple Watch isn’t technically a medical alert device, although apps can alert contacts or emergency services if the wearer is in trouble.
  • Users should be comfortable with technology to navigate through the screens and apps.

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Final Thoughts

The Apple Watch has flexible functionality as a medical alert device. It’s stylish and incorporates popular smartphone technology. Plus, there’s no need for a recurring medical alert subscription to use the device. However, the Apple Watch doesn’t have a one-touch emergency alert button like some other medical devices. This may make it difficult for wearers to summon emergency services quickly. Operating the device relies on the user having a certain comfort level with current technology, smartphones and computers. Overall, however, the numerous wellness and health applications of the Apple Watch, plus the additional life conveniences of the device, make this a worthwhile medical device for those who can afford one.