iPhone and Apple Watch apps: New tools of the medical research trade

Apple announces three new studies that use apps on its gadgets
Robert Calandra

Apple announced this week that it is partnering with academic institutions and health care organizations for three new medical studies using information from the company’s iPhone and Apple Watch apps. Some of the media coverage of the announcement saw it as more evidence that Apple sees a future for itself in the health care market.

The latest collaboration follows Apple Heart Study, which used the Apple’s ResearchKit app to examine atrial fibrillation by sending an irregular rhythm notification to Apple Watch. That study, said Jeff Williams, Apple’s chief operating officer, showed that “we could positively impact medical research in ways that help patients today and make contributions that will benefit future generations.”

The new studies will focus on women’s health, heart and movement, and hearing.

The women’s health study is a collaboration among Apple and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and the NIH’s National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. The study will examine menstrual cycles and other gynecological issues to inform screening and risk assessments for several conditions.

The heart and movement study will team Apple up with Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston and the American Heart Association. The idea is to look at how heart rate and mobility relate to hospitalizations, falls, heart health, and quality of life.

The hearing study with the University of Michigan will study the effects of everyday sound exposure on hearing. Data from the study will be shared with World Health Organization for its Making Listening Safe initiative.

Apple is also offering a Cycle Tracking feature. The app is similar to others that claim to be able to track and predict a woman’s next period and fertility. The apps, however, tend not to be particularly accurate and many offer a footnote or small text disclaimers stating they should not be used as contraceptives.