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Apple reportedly developing EKG monitor for Apple Watch

In an effort to make its smartwatch more than a productivity tool, Apple may add EKG monitoring to future Apple Watch versions, says Bloomberg News.

Apple is working on new features for its Apple Watch that would allow the smartwatch to detect abnormal heart rhythms, according to a report Wednesday from Bloomberg News, which cites people familiar with the effort. 


Apple's Smart Watch Series 3 with the Sport Loop band.

Scott Stein/CNET

One version being tested would require a user to squeeze the watch frame, causing the watch to pass "an imperceptible current across the person's chest to track electrical signals in the heart and detect any abnormalities like irregular heart rates," the news site said. Such tests are called electrocardiograms, or EKGs. There's no guarantee the feature will find its way into future products, Bloomberg cautioned.

Apple declined to comment. 

The initiative fits into a recent pattern for the  electronics giant. Last month, it launched its Heart Study app, which uses the Apple Watch's heart rate sensor to collect data on wearers' heart rhythms and then notify them they might be experiencing atrial fibrillation, or AFib. This technology could be important for detecting a condition that doesn't always show symptoms. In the US, approximately 750,000 hospitalizations and 130,000 yearly deaths are a result of AFib, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Apple is conducting the study with Stanford Medicine

Unlike the project under development, the current system uses light sensors under the Apple Watch to track changes in blood flow. Data from that research could help the company develop AI tools that can spot abnormalities, Bloomberg suggested.

Consumers can already use Apple's smartwatch to monitor abnormal heart rhythms with AliveCor's KardiaBand, an FDA-cleared device that checks on-the-spot EKG readings by way of a Bluetooth-connected strap. Instead of using the watch's optical heart rate technology, the KardiaBand uses your finger or thumb to complete an electrical circuit via two metal contacts: one for your finger, one that rests against your wrist. It works with Apple Watch Series 1, 2 and 3 models -- that is, every version except the original "Series Zero" model.

CNET's Scott Stein contributed to this report.

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