Apple announces groundbreaking health studies

By | September 13, 2019

While most of the news from Wednesday’s annual Apple product launch in Cupertino, California focused on the unveiling of the iPhone 11 models and Apple TV+ and Apple Arcade details, the tech giant also made a healthcare announcement.

Presenting the latest Apple Watch model, the company’s vice president for health, Dr Sumbul Desai, unveiled news that they will take part in three new health studies: hearing health; heart health and mobility; and women’s health in relation to menstrual cycles and reproduction.

At the launch event, the company played an emotional video featuring testimonials from consumers who had used the Apple Watch during their own health crises.

“We have partners that we’re working with that are really interested in understanding how technology can be used to really impact people’s behaviour and health in these three areas, and that’s what we’re really exploring,” Dr Desai told STAT.

The goal is to help academic medical institutions and healthcare organisations leverage the Apple products customers already use to contribute toward medical research, “engaging with participants on a larger scale than ever before,” said Apple’s chief operating officer, Jeff Williams.

“Our business has always been about enriching people’s lives.”

APPLE WOMEN’S HEALTH STUDY:

Apple will partner with Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and the NIH’s National Health Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS).

The three have collaborated to create what Apple is billing as the “first long-term study of this scale focused on menstrual cycles and gynaecological conditions.”

The study will help to screen for and assess the risk that women have of developing conditions like polycystic ovary syndrome, infertility, and osteoporosis while also looking at pregnancy and menopausal transition.

APPLE HEARING STUDY:

Apple will “collect data over time in order to understand how everyday sound exposure can impact hearing”, in partnership with the University of Michigan.

Their announcement noted that the study data will be shared with the World Health Organisation (WHO) as a contribution to the organisation’s Make Listening Safe initiative.

APPLE’S HEART AND MOVEMENT STUDY:

Partnering with Brigham and Women’s Hospital and the American Heart Association, Apple will conduct a study of how heart rate and how mobile a person is can relate to hospitalisations, falls, heart health and quality of life.

The mobility signals include the pace of a person’s walking and flights of stairs climbed.

The goal is to promote healthy movement and better heart health.

The studies are part of a continued push by the company to make waves in the health and medical realms. Dozens of doctors, engineers and scientists have been hired for Apple’s health team over the past five years, and in a January interview with CNBC, Apple CEO Tim Cook said that he expected the company’s health-related work to become its lasting legacy and “greatest contribution to mankind.”

These forays into healthcare follow the Apple Heart Study, conducted in partnership with Stanford University researchers and enrolling more than 400 000 participants. The results of the study, unveiled earlier this year, were so encouraging that it pushed executives to launch the new research, said Dr Desai.

It may also signal Apple’s product areas, though this is likely to depend on whether wearable devices like the Apple Watch can be used as meaningful tools for patient monitoring.

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