Apple Watch Medical Alert Review

We compared the Apple Watch’s medical alert features to industry giants. It holds its own.
Best medical alert watch + fitness tracker combo
Apple Watch 5
Apple Watch (Series 4 and later)
  • pro
    Automatic fall detection
  • pro
    Worldwide SOS coverage
  • con
    Nuanced setup
Cathy Habas
Staff Writer, Safety & Security
July 12, 2022

The Apple Watch (Series 4 and later) has been one of our favorite fitness trackers for seniors for years, and it’s also a great medical alert device thanks to additions like automatic fall detection, an SOS button, and a slew of heart-monitoring features. Best of all, you don’t have to pay a monthly fee to get personalized assistance during an emergency—your medical ID profile is shared with dispatchers automatically.

The only drawback is that none of these settings are turned on by default, so it takes a bit of time to make sure your Apple Watch will work as expected during an emergency.

pro
Pros
pro Automatic fall detection
pro SOS button
pro Medical ID
pro ECG app
pro Resting heart rate alerts
pro Emergency location sharing
con
Cons
con Lots of setup
con No non-emergency location sharing

Apple Watch vs. other medical watches

Product
Best for
Watch price
Fall detection
SOS button alerts
Heart rate monitoring
Learn More
Read Review
Best overall
Icon Yes  LightYes
Local authorities, emergency contacts
Icon Yes  LightYes
Best for video calling
Icon Yes  LightYes
Emergency contacts
Icon Yes  LightYes
Best for budgets
Icon No  LightNo
Professional monitors
Icon Yes  LightYes
Best for voice activation
Icon Yes  LightYes
Professional monitors
Icon No  LightNo
Best for basics
Icon No  LightNo
Emergency contacts
Icon Yes  LightYes

*Amazon.com price as of post date. Read full disclaimer

Automatic fall detection

Screenshot: SafeWise

The Apple Watch’s automatic fall detection—available in Series 4 and up—makes it a bonafide medical alert device in our book. Better yet, you don’t have to pay an extra monthly fee to use this feature, which is definitely not the case with most medical alert devices with fall detection.

We’re glad to see the Apple Watch uses both an accelerometer and a gyroscope to detect falls, since having more than one type of sensor reduces the likelihood of false alarms. Like other fall detection systems, the Apple Watch is programmed to detect hard, rapid falls followed by a period of inactivity. 

Keep in mind that the Apple Watch may not recognize a fall if you’re able to soften the landing by leaning on furniture or sliding down a wall.

Turn on the fall detection feature on your iPhone’s Watch app. Once you toggle fall detection on, you can specify whether you want it on all the time or just when you’re working out.

SOS button

The Apple Watch features an SOS button that calls emergency services anywhere in the world and also shares location data with your emergency contacts.

But you have to do a lot of setup in the Watch app before any of this works. For example, the watch can’t call for help if it doesn’t have cellular capabilities and your iPhone isn’t nearby. You can default to Wi-Fi calling when cell service isn’t available, but only if you’ve toggled Wi-Fi calling on in the app—and if you’re connected to a known Wi-Fi network. 

For best results, pay about $10 a month for your Apple Watch to have its own cellular connection. And don’t forget to toggle SOS calls on via your iPhone’s Watch app.

Image: SafeWise

Next, you have to decide how you want to initiate the SOS calls. You always have to press and hold the side button to get started. Then, you can swipe right on the SOS option to call emergency services. But let’s say your hands are wet or you’re wearing gloves and swiping isn’t possible. You can keep holding the side button to initiate the call—but, again, only if you’ve turned that option on in the app.

Finally, you need to set up emergency contacts. You can designate someone as an emergency contact through your address book or through the medical ID feature. These folks will be notified when you use the SOS button, and they’ll also keep receiving your location data until you tell the Apple Watch to stop sending it. 

Heart-aware features

Apple is careful to explain in its user manuals that this watch isn’t a perfectly calibrated medical device, so you shouldn’t rely on it to give diagnoses or detect a heart attack. Make sure you use common sense—if you don’t feel well, get help, no matter what the Apple Watch says about your heart.

That said, when all goes well, the Apple Watch can give you some helpful information about your heart, including irregular rhythm and abnormally high or low resting heart rates. You can turn on notifications and set heart rate parameters through the Apple Watch app on your iPhone.

There’s also an ECG (echocardiogram) app that records your heart rhythm and lets you manually log any other symptoms, making it easy to share data with your doctor.

Built-in medical ID

Just like a traditional medical ID bracelet, the Apple Watch’s medical ID lists critical health information that helps emergency responders give appropriate treatment. The advantage of the Apple Watch’s medical ID is that you can list a lot more information than the typical medical ID bracelet.

Here’s what you can add to your medical ID on the iPhone Health app:

Screenshot: SafeWise

  • Photo
  • Name
  • Date of birth
  • Medical conditions
  • Medical notes (such as preferred hospital or DNR orders)
  • Allergies and reactions
  • Medications
  • Blood type
  • Organ donor status
  • Primary language
  • Weight and height 
  • Emergency contacts

You can also choose to allow how your Medical ID is shared. It can appear on your Apple Watch or iPhone’s lock screen so that emergency responders can access it without your passcode. You can also have it shared with dispatchers during an emergency call, but only in “supported areas”—which means not every dispatch center may be equipped to receive this information from Apple. 

Emergency contacts are automatically notified when you use the SOS button to call emergency services. They also receive your current location. 

Other health-tracking features

The Apple Watch tracks all kinds of health and fitness data, including the number of steps you take each day and your overall cardio fitness. You don’t have to buy a medical alert and a fitness tracker if you get the Apple Watch.

Other fitness-related information at your fingertips includes the following:

  • Six-minute walk distance
  • Walking speed
  • Step length
  • Double support time (the amount of time both feet are on the ground)
  • Walking asymmetry

If you wear the Apple Watch to bed and it has at least a 30% charge, it also tracks how long you sleep each night and your respiratory rate throughout your sleep cycle. 

Additional features in the Apple Health iPhone app

This isn’t a comprehensive list of everything the Apple Health iPhone app can do—just what’s available on the Apple Watch. On the iPhone app, you can keep track of health records, sync the app to data from smart blood pressure monitors, scales, posture trainers, and other smart devices to track health data in one place.

Screenshot: SafeWise

You can also turn on a neat feature called Walking Steadiness, which may help predict whether you’re at risk of falling in the next 12 months. Just like any other health data tracked by wearable devices, it may not always be accurate, so make sure you talk to your doctor about fall risk and prevention.

Final word

The Apple Watch isn’t just a trendy gadget. It holds its own against other medical alert devices thanks to automatic fall detection and a shareable medical ID profile—none of which costs extra. 

Because it doesn’t connect with a caregiver app or professional monitoring center, the Apple Watch isn’t ideal for people with memory problems or those who need ongoing check-ins and support. See our other recommendations for medical alert watches, medical alerts with GPS, and senior wearables.

Apple Watch FAQ

Do all Apple Watches have fall detection?

No. Apple Watch Series 1, 2, and 3 do not have fall detection.

Do all Apple Watches have the ECG app?

No. Apple Watch SE and Series 1, 2, and 3 do not have the ECG app.

Do I need to pay a monthly fee to use the Apple Watch as a medical alert device?

Technically, no monthly fee is required to use the Apple Watch as a medical alert device. But you’ll have to keep your iPhone nearby to place SOS calls. To make emergency calls from just your Apple Watch, buy a separate cellular plan for around $10 a month.

Which Apple Watch should I get?

There’s no difference between the health monitoring and medical alert features of the Apple Watch Series 4, 5, 6, or 7. The watches themselves have other differences that may affect your decision.

For example, the Apple Watch 7 has a slightly larger screen than any of the other options, and the Apple Watch 4 has 16 GB of storage compared to the 32 GB capacity of Series 5, 6, and 7. 

Of course, you’ll pay more money for the recent releases. To get the best deal, stick with the Series 4.

How we reviewed the Apple Watch

Image: SafeWise. 

We reviewed the Apple Watch’s medical alert features by using them ourselves, reading the user guide, and comparing all of the options with standard medical alert devices. Learn more on the SafeWise methodology page.

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Disclaimers

*Product prices and availability are accurate as of post date and are subject to change. Any price and availability information displayed on Amazon at the time of purchase will apply to the purchase of this product. Safewise.com utilizes paid Amazon links.

Certain content that appears on this site comes from Amazon. This content is provided “as is” and is subject to change or removal at any time.

Cathy Habas
Written by
Cathy Habas
With over seven years of experience as a content writer, Cathy has a knack for untangling complex information. Her natural curiosity and ability to empathize help Cathy offer insightful, friendly advice. She believes in empowering readers who may not feel confident about a purchase, project, or topic. Cathy earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in English from Indiana University Southeast and began her professional writing career immediately after graduation. She has contributed to sites like Safety.com, Reviews.com, Hunker, and Thumbtack. Cathy’s pride and joy is her Appaloosa “Chacos.” She also likes to crochet while watching stand-up comedy specials on Netflix.

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