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Jan 11, 2018,  by Allianz Partners Business Insights

Apple Heart Study seeks to improve atrial fibrillation detection

Apple Heart Study, an Apple Watch-based ResearchKit study that uses a heart rate sensor to detect potential arrhythmias, launched on 30 November.

Apple Chief Operations Officer Jeff Williams announced the study, which is being conducted in collaboration with Stanford University and with assistance from American Well, at Apple’s iOS launch event on 8 September.

“The most common form of serious arrhythmia is called atrial fibrillation or AFib, and it affects tens of millions of people and is a leading cause of stroke,” said Williams. “But the challenge is, many people with AFib don’t feel symptoms, so it often goes undiagnosed. We’ve been looking at this for a couple years and we think Apple Watch can help. In our initial studies Apple Watch has been effective at surfacing irregular rhythms. So we’re expanding that work.

Open to all Apple Watch owners

Any United States resident over the age of 21 and in possession of an Apple Watch Series 1 or later is eligible to participate in the study. They can do so by downloading a free app from the App Store. Study participants will have their heart rate monitored on a continuous basis. If the Apple Watch detects possible atrial fibrillation, the participant will receive a notification on their Apple Watch and iPhone inviting them to begin a telemedicine consultation with a study doctor. Telemedicine services are provided by American Well.

If the participant does not need emergency care, Stanford University will forward an ECG monitoring patch (a BioTelemetry’s ePatch) to them. The user then wears the patch for a few days to allow researchers to link Apple Watch heart rate and ECG data together.

Similar projects launched by AliveCor and Cardiogram

While Apple has shown its willingness to move into the healthcare market by putting its name to a ResearchKit study for the first time, other companies have come up with similar projects.  On the very same day, AliveCor announced the launch of its KardiaBand (with Apple Watch) and SmartRhythm software, which also monitors the heart rate for signs of AFib and escalates to an ECG if necessary.

Cardiogram is another firm to focus on the detection of atrial fibrillation, in using a deep neural network. Using Apple Watch heart rate readings, its device can detect Afib with 97% accuracy. The potential benefits of these new tools cannot be underestimated. Atrial fibrillation leads to 130,000 deaths and 750,000 hospitalizations in the USA alone each year, partly because its symptoms cannot always be detected. Apple believes that a significant percentage of those deaths could be prevented through earlier diagnosis made possible by wearable tech such as the Apple Watch.



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