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Apple’s Wearables + Research Kit

8-8-19 - Apple's Wearables

In yesterday’s update, I wrote about how we’re seeing medical-grade biometric sensors, such as ECG monitors, being implemented in more and more consumer wearable devices. In the update, I laid out a few ways in which I believe one of the core use cases of wearables (and eventually hearables) will be to serve as, “biometric data collectors.” As the devices become outfitted with more and more sophisticated sensors, the data being collected yields more robust insights, leading to preventative health applications. We’re already seeing this with Apple Watch Series 4’s detecting atrial fibrillation via the embedded ECG sensor.

Yesterday, CNBC reporter, Christina Farr, reported that Apple and Eli Lilly are partnering up in a joint research project to study whether data from iPhones and Apple Watches can detect signs of dementia. It’s an interesting study, and the parameters include each participant being required to use an iPhone, Apple Watch and Beddit sleep tracker. Researchers are looking for ways to identify symptoms of dementia and cognitive decline via the data that can be derived from the participants’ phone habits, sleep patterns and biometric data collected from the watch.

(Quick side note – Apple bought the company Beddit in 2017 and now we’re seeing that one of the reasons why is for these type of studies where they want to monitor sleep patterns. This is such a typical Apple move – make a quite acquisition to use for much broader purposes (Research Kit) a few years later).

While this is an intriguing study, I don’t think the point is that Apple is trying to get into the business of detecting dementia. I think this is a byproduct of what Apple has built around collecting data and the unique position that Apple has put itself in within the healthcare space. Kat’s tweet is right on the money with the building blocks that Apple has created and is starting to assemble together.

The iPhone user base, and the Apple Health app in particular, serves as each person’s own health data repository, which is populated by inertial sensor data from the iPhone and biometric data collected via Apple’s Watch (and probably AirPods down the line). Soon, we may see health records being integrated too. These building blocks enable Apple’s healthcare software development kits, such as Research Kit, which helps researchers recruit participants for studies, as well as grants medical researchers access to data from previous studies, such as this dementia study, that have participants opt-in.

Back in March 2017, Apple worked with Mount Sinai Hospital to better understand asthma. Apple worked with the hospital to create an app that 7,600 people downloaded and enrolled in the six-month study within a matter of days. In addition to quickly amassing participants, Apple was able to use geo-location data to correlate the asthma data issued by the participants, with outside metrics such as heat and pollen. That corollary data can be accessed via researchers using Research Kit.

In January 2019, Apple worked with Johnson and Johnson to, ” investigate whether a new heart health program using an app from Johnson & Johnson in combination with Apple Watch’s irregular rhythm notifications and ECG app can accelerate the diagnosis and improve health outcomes of the 33 million people worldwide living with atrial fibrillation (AFib), a condition that can lead to stroke and other potentially devastating complications.”

It doesn’t appear that Apple is attempting to create a product around asthma, just as I don’t think Apple will pursue dementia-detecting technology. I believe that this specific study is part of a broader trend of Apple representing such an extraordinary and unusual position not really seen before in the healthcare space.

Last March, I wrote a long piece titled, “Pondering Apple’s Healthcare Move,” and I believe that Apple’s strategy is to be the ultimate health data collector and facilitator. The healthcare data ecosystem that Apple has incrementally been putting into place since the introduction of the Health App and Health Kit in 2014, puts Apple in a position where a variety of medical professionals might find an aspect of it appealing. Apple may be thinking that the best way to penetrate the healthcare sector is to lean on the way that it is able to uniquely capture, store, and transfer so many different types of data derived from its healthcare ecosystem that it has layered on top of the iPhone user base.

-Thanks for Reading-


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