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The popular Apple Watch has grabbed headlines over the last year for detecting users’ heart problems and potentially saving lives.  There have been several reported incidents of the device sensing heart arrythmias or irregular heart rates and notifying the wearer, prompting further medical evaluation.  The stories have become so common, in fact, that Apple focused on the feature in some of its marketing materials earlier this year.

Many smartwatches feature some form of heart rate monitoring, although there are some differences in how they do so.  In basic terms, the Apple Watch works by emitting light into the wearer’s wrist to determine how much blood is flowing through the area at a given time.  Apple takes this information to the next level by providing significant analysis of the data it receives.  This feature is the basis of a lawsuit filed by a New York University doctor who claims Apple is using his patent without permission.

Dr. Joseph Wiesel received a patent in 2006 for technology capable of detecting a relatively common heart arrythmia known as atrial fibrillation.  According to the lawsuit, Dr. Wiesel told Apple about his breakthrough back in 2017, and since then the company has integrated the technology without his permission and without compensating him.  Apple has not commented on the lawsuit.

There are important limitations to smartwatches’ ability to inform users about serious medical problems.  Always consult a qualified medical professional for individualized health concerns.

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