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Apple Watch Medical Alert Review 2022

Jun 24, 2022

By Sara Lindberg and Cara Henderson, MS, RDN
Medically Reviewed by Amber Snow, MSN, APRN, AGPNCP-C
Reviewed by Kathleen Cameron, BSPharm, MPH, Senior Director of NCOA’s Center for Healthy Aging
Fact Checked

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This content and its featured products and services were independently reviewed by a third-party, credentialed Reviews Team. If you make a purchase using the links included, our partners may earn a commission. NCOA, however, does not receive a commission for purchases.

Key Takeaways

  • Prices for the Apple Watch range between $199–$799, depending on the model and style. 
  • Although the Apple Watch is not considered a medical alert device, it has health monitoring features, including fall detection (for some models) and the ability to call 911 in an emergency.              
  • You or someone in your family must have an iPhone to set up the watch and use all of its features.

Can the Apple Watch be used as a medical alert device? Although it doesn’t include all the same features as other medical alert watches, the Apple Watch may be a good alternative for active older adults, especially those who live alone, are comfortable using technology, and already have an iPhone.

The Apple watch costs more than some other medical alert devices, but you don’t have to pay the monthly monitoring fee that’s required with most monitored medical alert systems. This is because the Apple Watch isn’t connected to a 24/7 monitoring center. Instead, it calls the nearest 911 dispatcher when you push the Emergency SOS button. Most medical alert systems connect to monitoring centers, where operators alert 911 if you need help.

Our Reviews Team decided to research the Apple Watch as an option for medical alerts because of the extra features it offers for health monitoring, fall detection, and emergency calling. It may be a good choice for people interested in a watch with medical alert features, but it does have its drawbacks. Keep reading for our Apple Watch medical alert review.

Why you can trust our Reviews Team’s expert reviews

2,500+
Hours of Research
2
Surveys Deployed
13
Brands Tested
9
Experts Consulted

Our Reviews Team spent more than 2,500 hours conducting in-depth research on medical alert systems. During our process, we:

  • Researched and tested each system independently
  • Consulted with licensed professional caregivers and doctors who specialize in senior care
  • Mystery shopped four medical alert system brands
  • Surveyed medical alert system users
  • Read hundreds of verified customer reviews from trusted third parties, such as Better Business Bureau (BBB) and Trustpilot

Read more about our medical alert system review methodology

Pros and cons of using the Apple Watch as a medical alert

The Apple Watch is popular among people of all ages for its variety of features and the wide range of styles to choose from. But like any device, the Apple Watch comes with pros and cons. This is especially true when comparing it to a traditional medical alert system or to the best medical alert watches. Here are some Apple Watch medical alert pros and cons.

Pros No monthly monitoring fee Emergency SOS button to call 911 Heart rate and rhythm monitor GPS location tracker Siri voice-activated features Fitness and sleep tracker Special features, like weather forecasts, text messaging, and calling Does not look like a traditional medical alert device Many styles of cases and bands to choose from Water resistant and safe for showering Extra features available (including fall detection) on Series SE and 7
Cons Higher upfront costs than other medical alert systems Requires an iPhone (6s or later) to set up the watch and use features Lacks a one-touch help button (users must press and hold rather than press once like most medical alert systems) Not connected to a 24/7 monitoring call center May be difficult to use if you aren’t comfortable with technology

Apple Watch medical alert models

Apple currently sells three models of smartwatches online and in stores. All of the models offer the following features:

  • GPS location tracking
  • Emergency SOS button to contact 911 in an emergency
  • Two-way communication to allow you to speak directly into your watch
  • Bluetooth connectivity
  • Health monitoring (including a step tracker and heart rate monitor)
  • Water resistance

With GPS (technology that uses satellites to pinpoint your location) and an emergency button, all Apple watches can be used as a medical alert device, but certain models offer extra features in addition to the ones listed above. Here’s a look at each model, comparing costs and features to help you make a decision about which one best fits your needs and budget. 

Series 3

Apple Series3 medical alert watch in black and white

Cost: Starts at $199 
Dimensions:

  • 38 mm case with a band to fit 130–200 mm wrists 
  • 42 mm case with a band to fit 140–210 mm wrists

Weight: 40–53 grams depending on style

The Series 3 is the least expensive Apple Watch option. It includes all of the features above but not much else. Still, the Series 3 will contact 911 when you push the SOS button, and this is the main function of a medical alert system. 

One reason the Series 3 is less expensive than the other models is it doesn’t offer a cellular connection, so you need to have your iPhone nearby or connect your watch to Wi-Fi and set up wireless calling to contact 911. Also, this model can only make calls in the United States, which is important to consider if you travel internationally.

Series SE

Apple SeriesSE medical alert watch in white and black

Cost: Starts at $279 with GPS only; starts at $329 with GPS and cellular connection
Dimensions: 

  • 40 mm case with a band to fit 130–200 mm wrists 
  • 44 mm case with a band to fit 140–220 mm wrists

Weight: 30–36 grams depending on style

The Series SE is a step up from the Series 3. It offers automatic fall detection, which is a highly valued function. The majority of respondents (60%) to our Reviews Team’s survey of 1,000 medical alert users said automatic fall detection was the top special feature they wanted in a medical alert device. The Series SE is  also able to make emergency calls in most countries and regions outside the United States, and it includes a compass. 

Series 7

Apple Series7 medical alert watch in white and metal

Cost: Starts at $399 with GPS only; starts at $499 with GPS and cellular connection
Dimensions: 

  • 41 mm case comes with a band to fit 130–200 mm wrists 
  • 45 mm case comes with a band to fit 140–220 mm wrists

Weight: 32–52 grams depending on style

The Series 7 is the most expensive watch Apple makes, but it also has the most features. Along with all of the features in the Series SE, the Series 7 includes apps that allow you to check your blood oxygen levels and take an electrocardiogram (ECG),1 which measures the electrical activity of your heart, according to Johns Hopkins Medicine. If you have health issues you’d like to monitor and the price is within your budget, the Series 7 may be a great choice. You may want to speak with your doctor before purchasing this model to determine if these features are important for your particular health situation.

Apple Watch medical alert features

Cost

The Apple Watch ranges in price between $199–$799. All models offer the Emergency SOS button, GPS, and basic health monitoring, but only the SE and Series 7 include fall detection. The Series 7 also has more advanced health monitoring features. While the Series 7 costs more, the price may be worth it if you have health issues you want to monitor with your watch.

The Apple Watch Series 3 is close in price (starts at $199) to the Bay Alarm Medical SOS Smartwatch (which costs $179 but also has a $30 per month monitoring fee). Both watches offer similar features such as GPS, two-way communication, and fitness monitoring. You can compare Apple and Bay Alarm Medical watches in Table 1 below.

Fall detection

Fall detection is the most unique medical alert feature of the Apple Watch. Here’s how it works: When the watch detects a hard fall, it taps you on the wrist (this feels like a small vibration), sounds an alarm, and displays an alert. You can then contact emergency services (911) or dismiss the alert, which tells the system you’re okay. 

If you do nothing and don’t move for more than a minute, the watch will vibrate and sound an alert that gets louder for 30 seconds. If you don’t respond, the watch will call 911 automatically and send messages to your selected emergency contacts letting them know your location, that your watch detected a fall, and that the watch contacted 911. If the birthdate you enter when setting up your Apple Watch shows you’re 55 or older, fall detection is turned on automatically.

It’s worth noting that no fall detection is 100% accurate, and research from 20162 shows fall detection worn around your neck is more accurate than fall detection worn around your wrist. The same research found the best way to wear a fall detection device is as a necklace high on your chest and on top of your sternum for accuracy.

The best medical alert systems with fall detection can help ensure a quicker response time and grant you, your family members, and caregivers peace of mind.

For more information on understanding your risk of falls and tips for preventing them, use NCOA’s Falls Free CheckUp tool.

Battery life

The average battery life of the Apple Watch is about 18 hours. This allows you to use the watch all day and charge it overnight. It takes about an hour for a full charge. If you want to sleep with it on, you can always charge it before bed while sitting or lying down. 

Wireless connection

If you buy the Apple Watch Series SE or 7, you’ll need to select one of the following options:

  • Cellular connection, which will let you make and receive calls and get alerts even when your iPhone isn’t nearby or Wi-Fi isn’t available. The watch will use cellular data to answer (the same data smartphones use) and make calls and send text messages. Keep in mind you must use the same cellular carrier on both your iPhone and your watch.
  • Wi-Fi connection to make and receive calls and alerts on your watch

If you choose the Series SE or 7 without a cellular connection (or the Series 3, which doesn’t offer a cellular connection), you can make and receive calls and alerts in one of two ways:

  • Have your iPhone nearby to use its network connection.
  • Turn on Wi-Fi calling on your watch and connect to a nearby Wi-Fi network.

The Series SE and 7 models offer Family Setup, which allows a family member with an iPhone to set up the Apple Watch user’s watch so they can make and receive calls, send messages, get alerts, and share their location with the iPhone user. Keep in mind, though, that if a family member sets up your watch with their iPhone, you won’t be able to use all of the watch’s features unless their phone is nearby. The features that won’t be available include:

  • Breathing rate
  • Blood oxygen, heart rhythm, and ECG monitoring
  • Sleep tracking

Response time

If the watch does not detect movement after a hard fall for about a minute, it will wait 30 seconds before automatically calling 911. 

Location tracking

All Apple Watch models include GPS. The Family Sharing feature also allows you to share your location with family members in Find My Friends of the Messages app.  

Voice activation

The Apple Watch has voice-activated Siri assistance. It also includes two-way communication, allowing you to speak directly into your watch. 

Water resistance

Apple Watch Series 2 and newer are water resistant to a depth of up to 50 meters (about 150 feet). You can wear them during water activities, like swimming. Avoid getting soap or shampoo on the watch if you shower with it, because this can affect the water seals. 

Apps

Apple has several apps you can use with your watch. The Apple Watch app on your iPhone allows you to change the appearance of the face of your watch, adjust your settings and notifications, and install other apps. 

The Apple Watch also includes apps for health, fitness, and timekeeping tasks. Plus, you can install apps you already have on your phone onto your watch. 

Contact alerts

The Apple Watch does not have specific caregiver alerts like other medical alert systems, but it can send a message to your selected emergency contacts when you push the Emergency SOS button. If the watch detects a hard fall and you do not react to the alerts, it will automatically call 911 and send a message to your selected list of contacts alerting them to your situation. 

Since all of the Apple Watches are connected to an iPhone, you can download certain apps, like medication reminders and ElderCheck Now.

Warranty

All Apple Watches come with a one-year limited warranty and 90 days of free customer support. If you purchase AppleCare+, you’ll receive accidental damage protection for up to two incidents every 12 months. 

Cost of AppleCare+:

  • Series 3 and SE: $2.50 per month 
  • Series 7: $4 per month

Customer service

Apple offers the following ways to contact customer service:

The company also has an online support page that answers many common questions and helps you troubleshoot problems with your watch. There are also free online videos to help educate older adults on how to best use their Apple Watch. 

Payment options

You can pay by credit card, debit card, Apple Pay, and PayPal in stores, over the phone, or on the website. Apple allows you to pay for your watch in a one-time payment with the options above. You can also pay in monthly installments using the Apple Card, which is a type of credit card.

How does the Apple Watch work as a medical alert system?

Emergency SOS

While it’s not a traditional medical alert watch that’s connected to a 24/7 monitoring center, the Apple Watch has features that can monitor your health and help in an emergency. The most important feature is the built-in Emergency SOS button that calls 911 when you push it. Here are the steps to using this feature:

  1. Press and hold the watch’s side button until the Emergency SOS slider appears on the screen. 
  2. Drag the Emergency SOS slider over to start the call. You can also keep holding the side button. After a 30-second countdown, the watch will call 911 automatically and give them your location. 
  3. If you’ve selected emergency contacts in your phone, they will be alerted and given your location after you alert 911.

If your Apple Watch does not have cellular, your iPhone needs to be nearby or the watch needs to be connected to a Wi-Fi network to call 911. 

Automatic fall detection

The other medical alert feature in the Series SE and 7 is fall detection. With fall detection enabled, the watch can detect a hard fall, connect you to emergency services, and send a message to your emergency contacts. If the Apple Watch detects a fall and notices you haven’t moved for about a minute, it will tap your wrist, sound an alarm, and then call emergency services.

Health monitoring features

In addition to the Emergency SOS button and fall detection, all current Apple Watch models provide these monitoring features:

  • High and low heart rate notifications
  • Irregular heart rhythm notifications

The Apple Watch Series 7 also includes:

  • Blood oxygen app
  • ECG app, which lets you take an ECG at any time 

Be aware that these health monitoring features are not diagnostic, meaning they cannot diagnose any health problems, only give you information. So if you receive a reading that looks abnormal to you, you should seek out the expertise of your primary care doctor. You’re also able to share the health information from your Apple Watch with your primary care doctor. All of the data is encrypted, and you can easily share or restrict access to your health data from your phone.

The Apple Watch does have a few shortcomings compared to other medical alert devices. The Apple Watch is not connected to a 24/7 monitoring center like traditional medical alert systems. Also, some of the features and apps may be hard to use if you’re not comfortable with technology. The Apple Watch is also more expensive than other medical alert watches and requires an iPhone to set up.

Check out how traditional medical alert systems work for more information.

How much does the Apple Watch cost?

The Apple Watch with medical alert cost depends on the model you choose. For example, a Series 7 watch can cost between $399–$799, while the SE is between $279–$329. The Series 7 prices are specific to the type of band, watch case, screen size, and connectivity (cellular or Wi-Fi), not the medical alert features. 

The Apple Watch has a higher upfront cost than most other medical alert watches or the average medical alert systems cost. But there is no monthly monitoring fee, so over time you may save money compared to a monitored system that charges a monthly fee.

You can get basic medical alert features with the Apple Watch Series 3, 7, and SE. To access the more advanced medical alert features, like the blood oxygen and ECG app, you need to buy the Apple Watch Series 7.

Which apps and accessories are available?

Apple has several apps you can use with the Apple Watch, including the apps on your iPhone. The Apple Watch allows you to customize watch faces, adjust settings and notifications, configure the Dock (home screen), install other apps, and more. 

Plus, you’ll have the medical or emergency section of your phone to store all of your health and medical information and emergency contacts. The health apps available with the Series 7 include the Blood Oxygen app and sensor, and the ECG app. All three models also monitor and provide alerts for irregular heart rhythm and high and low heart rate notifications. All measurements are saved in the Health app on your iPhone. 

The ECG app can record your heartbeat and rhythm using the electrical heart sensor on the Apple Watch Series 7 and then check for atrial fibrillation. Atrial fibrillation (commonly known as “a-fib”) is an irregular and often very rapid heart rhythm, according to the Mayo Clinic.3 Once the watch reads your measurements, you will receive one of these results: sinus rhythm (the name given to the normal rhythm of the heart, according to the University of Nottingham), atrial fibrillation, low or high heart rate, inconclusive, or poor reading.4

Table 1 Comparing Apple Watch to other medical alert watches, as of April 2022

Since the Apple Watch doesn’t work exactly like other medical alert watches, you may want to take a look at how its features and costs compare to medical alert watches from traditional brands.

Watch model

Cost

Fall

detection

Battery

life

Response

time

GPS

Location

tracking

Warranty

Apple Series 3

$199

and up

No

18 hours

About

90

seconds

Yes

Limited

1-year

Apple Series SE

$279

and up

Yes

18 hours

About

90

seconds

Yes

Limited

1-year

Apple Series 7

$399–$799

Yes

18 hours

About

90

seconds

Yes

Limited

1-year

Lively Wearable 2

$50 watch;
$20–$40
per month
monitoring fee

Yes, if

worn as a necklace

Up to 4

months

About
18 to 20
seconds

No

Limited

1-year

Bay Alarm Medical SOS

$179 watch;

$30 

per month

monitoring fee

No

6–18 hours

About 

10 to 20

seconds

Yes

Available for

extra fee

Apple Watch

Apple watch medical alert watch

  • Equipment cost: Starts at $199
  • Starting monthly cost: $0 
  • Battery life: 18 hours
  • Water resistant: Yes
  • Fall detection: Yes

Lively Wearable 2

lively medical alert watch

  • Equipment cost: $50
  • Starting monthly cost: $25 
  • Battery life: Four months
  • Water resistant: Yes
  • Fall detection: Yes

Bay Alarm Medical SOS

Bay Alarm Medical sos smartwatch medical alert watch

  • Equipment cost: $179
  • Starting monthly cost: $30  
  • Battery life: 6–18 hours
  • Water resistant: Yes
  • Fall detection: No

What to consider before buying a medical alert watch

The first step for choosing a medical alert watch is to think about the type of device you want to use. According to Sean Marchese, MS, RN, of the The Mesothelioma Center, if you’re not comfortable with technology, you may want to choose a simple watch such as the Bay Alarm Medical SOS Smartwatch. For more active adults, he says a device that includes a step counter and heart rate monitor might be a better fit.

The most important thing is making sure the watch can contact emergency services. “The medical alert watch should have a reliable battery and fail-safe communication methods to reach 911 or similar services in the event of a fall or if you become unresponsive,” said Marchese.

Apple Watch medical alert customer reviews

The Apple Watch has an average customer rating of 4.8 out of 5 stars on Amazon based on more than 18,000 reviews. Apple has an A rating on its BBB page.

I am 73 years old. The week after I purchased this watch I fell. This watch immediately alerted to ask if I needed emergency help. The emergency button was on screen available for me to press if I was injured or could not get up. It requested confirmation that I did not need help. I wish I had it earlier this year when I had broken my foot from a fall, rather than hobbling to a phone I could have just pressed the emergency button. Thank you, Apple Watch.

—JOYCE, VERIFIED APPLE WATCH CUSTOMER (REVIEW FROM AMAZON

I took a hard fall and it detected it. Amazing. The watch asked me if I was okay or if I needed 911. Then it checked back with me in about 15 min to see if I was still okay. I was impressed. And I discovered that I could set it up to call family AND emergency services if I fell and did not move or answer the watch to say I was okay. Great feature.

—CAROLE, VERIFIED APPLE WATCH CUSTOMER (REVIEW FROM AMAZON)

We were excited about the medical monitoring. We are an apple family with an iPhone, two iPads, and an iMac, none of which are compatible with the Apple Watch! No mention of strict requirements on the Amazon website. Our only option was to buy a new iPhone or return the Apple Watch and investigate alternative medical monitoring options. Shame on Apple’s merchandising philosophy!

—GEORGE, VERIFIED APPLE WATCH CUSTOMER (REVIEW FROM AMAZON)

Bottom line

The Apple Watch can be a good device for many people looking for a traditional smartwatch with a few extras for health and safety. The Apple Watch Series 7 is a top quality device that comes with all of the medical alert features Apple offers. If you want to save some money, the SE is equipped with fall detection, but not the ECG or blood oxygen app. 

The Apple Watch does fall short of being a true medical alert device since it’s not connected to an around-the-clock monitoring center. It may not be the right fit for some older adults or people with chronic diseases who need a higher level of monitoring. Medical alert watches with fall detection are also not as accurate as medical alert necklaces with fall detection.

The Apple Watch is better suited for a person who wants a fitness tracker with some medical and health features. It’s also a good alternative to a medical alert system if you don’t want to wear a traditional help button. This is something to consider if you’re buying a medical alert device for a loved one.

Frequently asked questions

Have questions about this review? Email us at reviewsteam@ncoa.org.

Sources

  1. Johns Hopkins Medicine, “Electrocardiogram.” Found on the internet at https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/treatment-tests-and-therapies/electrocardiogram#:
  2. Gjoreski, et al., “How Accurately Can Your Wrist Device Recognize Daily Activities and Detect Falls?” Found on the internet at https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4166886/
  3. Mayo Clinic, “Atrial fibrillation.” Found on the internet at https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/atrial-fibrillation/symptoms-causes/syc-20350624
  4. University of Nottingham, “Sinus Rhythm” Found on the internet at https://www.nottingham.ac.uk/nursing/practice/resources/cardiology/function/sinus_rythm
  5. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s “Facts About Falls.” Found on the internet at https://www.cdc.gov/falls/facts.html
  6. Pannurat N, et al., “Automatic fall detection: A review.” Found on the internet at https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4166886/

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