Apple Watch as Medical Alert : Review

By:  Editorial Team   |  Posted: October 30, 2018   |  Updated: December 22, 2023

The Basics

  • Product: Apple Watch
  • Company: Apple
  • Review Date:  Q4 2018. Updated Q4 2023. 

Where to buy it or learn more*:

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Analyst Summary: Apple   |  Apple Watch


The Apple Watch is one of several products we compared in a piece of research called “Smartwatch as Medical Alert“. If you are interested in this category of product, we recommend you look at this comparative review.

There are two distinctly different ways to use an Apple Watch as a medical alert. This review is about using the Apple Watch with only its native emergency alert software (called Emergency SOS).

The second approach is to use an Apple Watch with a special Medical Alert App installed. We recently tested the App called FallCall Lite, with the Apple Watch (review of FallCall Lite here).

The big difference between these two approaches to using an Apple Watch as a medical alert is who gets called when you press the “button”. With the Apple Watch using its own built-in Emergency SOS App the device calls 911 directly when you press the button. With the FallCall Lite App installed, the App calls a professional monitoring service when the button is pressed.

The other big difference is that with iOS12 the Apple Watch 4 and Emergency SOS come with a fall detection algorithm. This is a big deal.

For more on these important differences, read Smartwatch as Medical Alert.

To see how to use and set up Emergency SOS on your Apple Watch see this article on Apple’s website.

Update Dec 2023: Note that you can now use an app made by the Best Buy subsidiary “Lively” as an alternative to the FallCall App.

The product is called the Lively App. We have not evaluated it, but prior products from that company worked well.

Since the original review, the Apple Watch itself has added many useful features. We will not try and update them here.

To learn about additional research we do related to the Apple Watch and how its features are relevant to older adults: subscribe to our Newsletter on Substack.


The Pluses

It looks great.

You get the full functionality of the Apple watch, so as far as smartwatch capability goes, you can’t beat it.

The Apple Watch and Emergency SOS App are at present the only way we know of to get a smartphone medical alert with an automatic fall detection algorithm.

To call for help you hold down the button on the side for a few seconds. You do NOT need to open any App and look for buttons on the screen.


The Minuses

It calls 911 directly.

This means there is no reassuring professional who gets paid to be nice to you in a variety of greater or lesser “needing help situations”. Just a busy 911 professional, and you definitely worry about whether it is right to bother them in anything but a life and death emergency.

And you don’t want to “test” this functionality, because calling 911 for no reason seems like a very bad idea. So would you remember what to do in an emergency in the absence of “practise”?

Finally, we don’t believe all 911 providers have the technology to receive a notification of your exact position automatically from the watch. So if you can’t tell them where you are, that may be a problem. We think this is changing, and so in the future this may be a non-issue.

For more on this topic, read Smartwatch as Medical Alert.


The Details

For lots more details about this product, including the topics below, we suggest you read “Smartwatch as Medical Device?“.

In “Smartwatch as Medical Device?” we discuss topics including:

  • charging;
  • can you wear it in the shower?
  • ease of use;
  • where it does and does not work;
  • response time;
  • how well it can locate you;
  • any “failures to call for help” in our testing;
  • how this category of medical alert smartwatch compares with more conventional medical devices; and
  • features for caregivers (like knowing where the wearer is).


Emergency Contacts

You can set up the Emergency SOS so that you add specific individuals as emergency contacts. You can choose whether or not you want them to get a notification if you press the emergency alert button, and if you do they will get your specific location.


Location Tracking

With iOS 14 and watchOS 7, Apple added a number of location tracking features to the Apple Watch. These are beyond the scope of this review, but are very relevant to people with dementia, and those who care about them. They are also very useful for a typical older adult interested in getting directions to places. You can see more about this capability in “Location Devices and Trackers for Dementia“.



Available on Amazon

It seems you can now buy these Apple Watches on Amazon, and maybe at a somewhat reduced price compared to Apple.



Learn More

To learn about additional research we do related to the Apple Watch and how its features are relevant to older adults: subscribe to our Newsletter on Substack.




Where to buy it or learn more*: (this takes you away from our website)

Apple Watch as Medical Alert

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*Disclosure: The research and opinions in this article are those of the author, and may or may not reflect the official views of Tech-enhanced Life.

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In some cases, when we evaluate products and services, we ask the vendor to loan us the products we review (so we don’t need to buy them). Beyond the above, Tech-enhanced Life has no financial interest in any products or services discussed here, and this article is not sponsored by the vendor or any third party. See How we Fund our Work.

19 thoughts on “Apple Watch as Medical Alert”

  1. Do you have volunteer

    Do you have volunteer speakers who would give a presentation to a large group of seniors in Melbourne? 

  2. My mom doesn’t want to wear a

    My mom doesn't want to wear a watch, but I see there is a pendant option.  Do you know if the fall alert works if the watch is on the pendant rather than the wrist?  

    • Yes – there are MANY options
      Yes – there are MANY options to wear an Apple Watch as a Pendant!

      Some features won’t work like heartrate but the big stuff will – fall detection, crash detection, etc!

  3. Can your Medical watch be
    Can your Medical watch be cellular so you do not have to have your phone close by?

    • You can get the Apple Watch
      You can get the Apple Watch with cellular service. The one issue with all smartwatches is battery life so the person will have to remember to recharge at night. However, my dad would not wear a fall device around his neck so the Apple watch is perhaps more appealing. Mike Nures

      • If the Apple Watch has
        If the Apple Watch has cellular service, does that eliminate the need to use it in conjunction with an iPhone?

  4. This is FABULOUS article. So
    This is FABULOUS article. So VERY well done. Am extremely grateful for your research. Can’t tell you the hours I’ve spent studying medical devices. Have one for in house tied into phone line and pleased. But been looking for something to wear when walking outside and my large iphone too heavy, pendants also heavy and uncomfortable and don’t easily convert to wrist mode or comfortable in wrist mode (know because have one). Road was leading me to Apple Watch. Your research and article cinched it for me. Plus, all will be paid for in first year. THANK YOU!

    • Applewatch is supposed to be

      Applewatch is supposed to be wearable when swimming, so shower should be fine. I have not tested that, but I did get it wet when washing my hands. The display shows a water drop, and tells you to press the crown to expel any water. 

  5. I have had medical guardian
    I have had medical guardian for approximately two years. I love the service. The one thing I don’t like is having to carry the extra device, GPS, and still wearing the wristband. Will the Apple Watch take care of everything

  6. I called our rescue squad’s

    I called our rescue squad's regular land line to ask whether they would allow me to test the 911 feature on my Applewatch Series 6. I do not have cellular on the watch, so have to have the iPhone nearby. The responder thought that was a great idea. I called him on a day and time he suggested, and he confirmed that 911 traffic was light. I then triggered 911 on the Applewatch. The 911 operator spoke to me through the phone and within 60 seconds reported my exact location based on the GPS on my watch.

  7. If your Apple Watch detects
    If your Apple Watch detects that you’re moving, it waits for you to respond to the alert and won’t automatically call emergency services. If your watch detects that you’ve been immobile for about a minute, it will make the call automatically. After the call ends, your watch sends a message to your emergency contacts with your location letting them know that your watch detected a hard fall and dialed emergency services. Your watch gets your emergency contacts from your Medical ID .

  8. I tested the 911 feature,
    I tested the 911 feature, with prior agreement from the local Rescue Squad. The 911 operator found my location in 30 seconds. But I live in a part of our town where cell phones work. My watch does not have built-in cell phone, so I would need to be within Bluetooth range of my phone. Those are not critical limitations for me, but might be for other users.