SEP 13, 2019 8:15 AM PDT

Apple Watch New Research App: A Boon to Women's Health

WRITTEN BY: Nupur Srivastava

“It’s not something you think of, your watch saving your life,” one customer says in a voiceover. 

A customer's Apple Watch called 911 when he took a fall that left him unconscious, and a pregnant woman whose Apple Watch told her she had an elevated heart rate and sent her to the hospital for an emergency C-section, they expressed gratitude to the Apple Watch for its health tracking app.

What are the health-related features do you track on Apple Watch? Are you comfortable in sharing the health-related information collected by Apple Watch with your healthcare practitioner or doctor?  The Apple company, in 2018, enrolled more than 400,000 people in its Apple Heart Study conducted in partnership with Stanford University researchers.

"The Apple Heart Study results are so encouraging that it pushed Apple executives to launch the new research," said Dr. Sumbul Desai, Apple’s vice president for health. 

On September 10th, 2019, Apple announced its groundbreaking three research studies to monitor women’s medical conditions, hearing health, and heart health and mobility signals like walking pace. The reviews are in partnership with crucial healthcare and academic organizations, including the National Institutes of Health and the American Heart Association, as well as leading educational, medical institutions including the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, and the University of Michigan.

Video provided by CNBC

The study will be available to U.S. Apple Watch owners to enroll themselves through a new Apple Research App that will be available to download later this year.

Research Studies

  • The study is observational and not randomized controlled trials, is virtual and no in-person visits.
  • The Apple Watch owners can start enrolling themselves for the studies later this year. 

The studies include: 

1) Women's Health Study: 

“Women make up half of the world’s population, yet even today there has been inadequate investment in studying their unique health needs,” Michelle A. Williams, dean of the faculty at the Harvard T.H. Chan School, said in a statement. “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.”

With Apple's period tracking feature, women can register information about their missed menstrual cycle dates and get notifications about their cycle in the future.

  • The study is in conjunction with the Harvard School of Public Health and National Institutes of Health.
  • The data will help in screening and risk assessment of the patients’ for gynecologic conditions such as polycystic ovary syndrome, infertility, osteoporosis, pregnancy, and the menopausal transition.

"Irregular or absent menses in a woman’s reproductive years can indicate a range of potential conditions that have implications for women’s health more broadly, including women’s bone, cardiovascular and brain health," says Rebecca Thurston, Ph.D., professor of psychiatry, psychology, and epidemiology at the University of Pittsburgh.

"Big data gleaned from this type of study will help researchers identify associations that cannot be detected with smaller studies", says Stephanie S. Faubion, medical director of the North American Menopause Society and executive director and international medicine director of the office of women’s health at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota in an interview with Haelio .

“Certainly, Apple has the capability to accomplish this ambitious goal,” Faubion told Healio. “I am hopeful that this will ultimately inform the clinical care of women beyond menstrual cycle tracking for fertility or menopause identification purposes.”

2) Auditory (Hearing) Health Study: This study using the Noise app on the Apple Watch will examine the effect of everyday sound exposure to our ears. 

“Since hearing loss is often so gradual, it is important to know when the sounds around you are loud enough to impact your hearing, like when you are in the middle of a construction zone, at a sporting event or playing your music really loud,” Apple VP of Health Dr. Sumbul Desai said at the event. “The new noise app uses a microphone to detect decibel levels and can notify you if it has reached a level that can impact your hearing over time. Because the watch is always on your wrist, it is in a great position to monitor environmental noise. If you tap the noise app you will get more detail and you can use the complication to check.”

3) Heart and Movement Study: In order to promote healthy movement and improved cardiovascular health, the app will track the correlation between physical activity and heart health. Specifically, it'll look at how signals like walking pace and flights of stairs climbed relate to the quality of life and other markers of cardiovascular health.

Study limitations:

Though this is an unprecedented breakthrough for Apple, there is a new focus of positioning the Apple Watch as a data collector rather than a medical device. The research app is helpful for people or doctors to better understand an individual's health to make both better lifestyle decisions and occasionally giving them a health risk assessment. 

  • The research process and what specific data will be gathered is unknown to date.
  • The data collection from low-income people is difficult as they can not afford to purchase an expensive wearable.

“Sampling of people is a possible issue,” says Charles Branas, the chair of the department of epidemiology at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, who is not participating in any of the Apple studies. “For instance, if only wealthier people can afford mobile devices with the best GPS, then the studies that emerge will mostly apply to wealthier people.” 

StatNews, Apple, CNET, Haelio, FastCompany

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