Apple unveiled three new research endeavors for Apple Watch users and a dedicated Apple Research application at its press conference Tuesday, illustrating how the company plans to turn medical research into a major pillar of its healthcare strategy forward.
And while the event may have missed some expectations, given Apple's lack of aural sleep tracking application, we believe the company's research initiative package adds a lot more value to its healthcare , especially since Apple owns the maker of Beddit sleep tracking devices.
Here is a breakdown of the three new Apple Watch research programs revealed at Tuesday's event:
- Hearing Initiative with the University of Michigan and the World Health Organization (WHO). Based on Apple Watch's new ability to passively monitor sound levels in a consumer environment, the study aims to uncover insights into how noise exposure affects long-term hearing health. WHO reports that nearly 50% of people between the ages of 12 and 35 worldwide (1.1 billion) are at risk of hearing loss due to loud sounds, and WHO cites personal music devices as a major cause for concern. . It's unclear whether Apple Watch's passive audio monitoring feature is also able to track users' personal volume levels while listening to music or watching videos, given that the sounds do not come from an external source – and without this function the value of the study results may be limited.
- Reproductive Health Research in partnership with Harvard and the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Apple's Harvard and NIH partners will use data from the company's menstrual cycle tracking app to look for risk factors for conditions such as infertility and osteoporosis. Unveiled this June, the Cycle Tracking app lets users track their period, course and other related symptoms, such as cramps or bloating. It makes sense why Apple would consider reproductive health a valuable research area: Menstrual tracking apps have been reported to be the second most popular apps among adolescent women in 2016.
- Heart and movement studies conducted with Brigham and Women Hospital and the American Heart Association (AHA). Details of this study are scarce, as Apple simply stated that the study will look at how "metrics" from the device can be used as a preventative health tool, identifying risky consumers and interventions to improve "overall health." We believe this study will likely extract data from Apple Watch's fitness tracking features, such as its heart rate monitor and tempo counter, to explore the links between exercise and heart health. And if the Apple Watch can reduce consumers' risk of heart disease, it could potentially help Apple convince payers of the device's value as a preventative health tool: Annual medical expenses for heart disease are expected to jump to over 800 billion dollars by 2030.
Apple reaffirms its position as market leader in wearable funnel consumer sales for medical research initiatives – and we believe this will boost the company's profile as a valuable partner research. Apple Watch sales are estimated at 50% of the global wearable market in 2018, with more than 22 million units sold.
This gives partners interested in using the Apple Watch for medical research a massive, built-in pool for participants to draw from. A major pain in medical research is simply finding participants: A recent study found that 56% of patients did not participate in clinical trials simply because there were no local options for them at the local care center.
But Apple Watch patient remote monitoring features, combined with its new research app, can help eliminate this pain: Stanford researchers bring together more than 400,000 participants to study the effectiveness of the Apple Watch electrocardiogram 3 to detect atrial fibrillation.
While the study yielded mixed results regarding the viability of Watch as a clinical tool, researchers were nevertheless excited by the potential of Apple Watch as a platform for medical research. And the addition of a dedicated research portal should further enhance Apple Watch's profile as an invaluable platform for healthcare researchers.
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