Apple unveiled three new research companies for Apple Watch users and a dedicated Apple Research app at its press conference on Tuesday, which illustrates how the company plans to make medical research a central pillar of its healthcare strategy going forward.
And while the event may have missed some expectations with the absence of Apple's rumored sleep tracking app, we believe the company's suite of research initiatives adds much more value to its health portfolio, especially given that Apple owns the sleep tracking manufacturer Beddit.
Here is a breakdown of the three new Apple Watch research programs presented at Tuesday's event:
- A 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 user's environment, the study aims to discover insights related to how noise exposure affects long-term hearing health. The WHO reports that nearly 50% of people aged 12 to 35 (around $ 1.1 billion) are exposed to hearing loss due to exposure to loud sounds, and WHO urged personal music devices as a major cause of concern. It is unclear whether Apple Watch's passive audio monitoring feature can also 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 feature, the study's value results can be limited.
- Reproductive health research in collaboration with Harvard and the National Institute of Health (NIH). Apple's partners at Harvard and NIH will use data from the company's menstrual cycle tracking app to search for risk factors for conditions such as infertility and osteoporosis. The Cycle Tracking app was introduced in June and allows users to track their period, flow and other related symptoms, such as cramps or bloating. It makes sense why Apple would use reproductive health as a valuable area for research: Menstrual tracking apps were reportedly the second most popular apps among teenage women in 2016.
- Heart and motion studies conducted with Brigham and Women & # 39; s Hospital and American Heart Association (AHA). Details of this study are scarce, as Apple simply said the study will look at how "measured values" from the device can be used as a preventive health tool by identifying users at risk and intervening to improve "general health." We believe this study will probably retrieve data from Apple Watch's fitness tracking features, such as its heart rate monitor and clock counter, to investigate the links between exercise and heart health. And if Apple Watch can deliver reductions in users' risk of heart disease, this could possibly help Apple convince payers of the device's value as a preventive health tool: Annual medical costs for heart disease are estimated to increase to over $ 800 billion by 2030.
Apple is utilizing its position as the market leader in portable sales to funnel users against medical research initiatives – and we believe this will increase the company's profile as an invaluable research partner. Apple Watch sales are estimated to account for 50% of the global portable market in 2018, with over 22 million units sold.
It gives partners interested in using Apple Watch for medical research a massive, built-in participant pool to pull off. An important pain point in medical research is simply finding participants: A new study showed that 56% of patients do not participate in clinical research simply because there are no alternatives available to them at their local care point.
But Apple Watch's remote patient monitoring capabilities combined with its new Research app can help eliminate that pain point: Stanford researchers provide more than 400,000 research participants on the effectiveness of Apple Watch 3's electrocardiogram for detection atrial fibrillation.
While the study yielded mixed results regarding the viability of the clock as a clinical tool, researchers were still excited about Apple Watch's potential as a medical research platform. And adding a dedicated research portal should further increase the Apple Watch profile as an invaluable platform for healthcare industry researchers.
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