Apple Watch – A Physical Therapy Tool or Not?

Apple’s highly anticipated Apple Watch released April 24th, 2015. Rumors of its uses for healthcare have been stirring for over a year now.

I had the opportunity to test the Apple Watch for myself. How did the real device fare? Will we be able to leverage Apple’s new technology to improve our patient care? Lets take a look at its implications for physical therapy professionals.

Apple Watch Key Health Features

The iWatch itself has incredible technology.  It comes outfitted with a gyroscope, an accelerometer, and a heart rate monitor. Apple will also release ResearchKit, which will allow app developers to create apps for medical research.

Apple included a workout app for the initial release. This app has a beautiful look and feel, and tells you how far, how fast, and how long you have been exercising, with a lovely circular display to track progress towards your goals. The app allows you to set goals and to see how far you are from your target. Nice information for the everyday man, but not too inclusive for the physical therapist.

Eliminated Key Features

As reported in February by Lance Whitney, many key features were eliminated from the original design. The Apple Watch does not come with GPS, and cannot be used as a standalone device without the iPhone. Anyone who wanted to track how far they have run will, unfortunately, still have to use their incredibly powerful phones to communicate with the Apple Watch.

Apple initially set out to create a device that would track blood pressure, heart activities and stress levels, but these features were eliminated from the original design.

The inclusion of such features would have afforded therapists greatly improved capabilities in cardiac and geriatric care – allowing for more control in safely regulating programs. For instance, a post CABG rehab program would have become more precise and efficient. The world will have to wait for future models before blood pressure, O2 saturation and heart rhythm become more accessible information in everyday patient care.


Honestly, I did not find many pros except that the watch looks great, is lightweight, and tells time accurately (who would have thought it would tell time). The ONLY other benefit is that you can see your text messages by turning your wrist palm down revealing the display of the watch rather than taking your cellphone out of your pocket. This incredible feature saves you ~ 3 seconds ….. (who cares!).


Where to begin. The worst part of the Apple Watch is that you have to charge it every day, or even multiple times per day. The battery lasted me ~7 hours when I was using it to track workouts or send text messages (oh yeah, they also have some pretty cool emoji’s). The charger is a magnet that attaches to the back of the watch. Sounds nice, but I noticed the watch fell off the magnetic charger when I left my house a few times so I obviously had a watch that was out of batteries when I got home.

Most apps are not worth using on the tiny display. The tracking functions are simple and worthwhile during a workout. Again, you still have to keep your phone with you to use the watch (with Bluetooth enabled so it can drain both the battery in your phone and the battery in your watch).


Overall, the hype of the Apple Watch as the evolution of healthcare was just that, hype….for now at least. Future versions that include all necessary sensors working properly will have incredible benefits for physical therapists. Imagine having instant ROM measurements, heart rhythm and remote blood pressure monitoring, as well as constant skin conductivity and O2 saturation!

Maybe Apple will do as Apple typically does, and release the improved version later this year. Currently however, the Apple Watch will be more for the everyday man, and maybe the personal trainer for client tracking.

About Brett Kestenbaum

NSU grad 2014. I took my first job at Scripps Mercy Hospital in San Diego shortly after graduating, and since then built this website for all the new grad PT's out there :).

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