Apple to take on global health study with medical collaboration

SOURCE: Jens Kreuter / Unsplash
Apple announced it was teaming up with medical institutions and universities to launch three new studies that were driven by the very data recorded daily on people's watches.

By U2B Staff 

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The implications and uses of the Apple Watch are far-reaching and vast. It is a device that is strapped to the wrist of literally millions of people, collecting data about everything from their phones calls to their heart rate. And in today’s world, data is power.

With this reach, developers initially saw the benefits of making the Apple Watch a health diagnostic tool; using that data to keep track of its owner’s health and pick up on any issues. But the company’s latest projects suggest it is leaning away from this approach and instead embracing the potentially life-saving power of people’s data.

Last week, Apple announced it was teaming up with medical institutions and universities to launch three new studies that were driven by the very data recorded daily on people’s watches. Higher education institutions involved include Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, Harvard University Medical School, and the University of Michigan School of Public Health.

apple watch health
The Apple Hearing Study will collect information to make sense of how exposure to sound over time can affect hearing. Source: Apple

“With the Apple Heart Study, we found that we could positively impact medical research in ways that help patients today and that make contributions that will benefit future generations,” Apple’s Chief Operating Officer, Jeff Williams, said in a statement.

“[The] announcement carries our commitment to health even further by engaging with participants on a larger scale than ever before.”

The focus areas are women’s and hearing health, with all studies being conducted remotely with no in-person visits. Using information collected from the devices, researchers will be able to examine these three key areas:

  • Women’s Health – Using the recently added feature that allows women to track their menstrual cycle on their Apple Watch, researchers will use that data to inform screening and patients’ risk for conditions such as polycystic ovary syndrome, infertility, and osteoporosis.
  • Hearing Health – Using Apple’s new hearing monitoring features, researchers will collect data over time to understand how the loud noises and sounds people are exposed to in everyday life can affect their long-term hearing health.
  • Mobility – The Apple Watch is able to monitor and collect data on the user’s heart rate, walking pace, and the number of stairs climbed. These statistics can be used to determine any connections between mobility and hospitalisations, falls, cardiovascular health, and quality of life.

Apple believes this new approach to medical studies could contribute to potential medical discoveries and help create the next generation of innovative health products. Participants will opt into the study by downloading the research app for free from the App Store later this year.

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The Apple Heart and Movement Study will look into the connection of heart health and mobility signals, like walking pace. Source: Apple

“Women make up half of the world’s population, yet even today there has been limited investment in studying their unique health needs,” said Michelle A. Williams, a reproductive epidemiologist and Dean of the Faculty at the Harvard T.H. Chan School.

“This study, unprecedented in scope, will greatly advance our understanding of the biological and social determinants of women’s health, and lead to better health outcomes.”

Wanting to ensure maximum impact, Apple have made clear they intend to share the findings for the hearing study with the World Health Organisation (WHO).

“With over a billion young people who could be at risk of hearing loss due to unsafe listening, WHO is addressing this challenge through raising awareness and setting new standards for safe listening,” said Dr. Shelly Chadha, Technical Officer of Prevention of Deafness and Hearing Loss at the WHO.

“The knowledge gained through this study will contribute to future public health action in this field.”