Yesterday, Chrissy Farr wrote a piece on the recently published paper in the New England Journal of Medicine about the results of Apple’s Heart Study. Apple collaborated with Stanford Medicine to conduct a broad study of Apple Watch users to try and identify atrial fibrillation (aFib). The Apple Watch series 4 has an ECG monitor built into it, which was the primary mechanism used to detect aFib within the participants of the study.
There are some big takeaways from this study.
Research Kit represents one of the new ways that Apple is leveraging its scale. The Kit facilitates researchers to sign up Apple users as participants for various studies, many of which include one of Apple’s wearables to study one type of health issue or another. For example, as I wrote about in August, researchers have studied asthma, dementia, and various heart effects, all through Research Kit.
Stanford Medicine and Apple signed up 400,000 participants in eight months (!) who had an Apple Watch series 4 or 5. It cannot be overstated how big of a deal this is for researchers to be able to recruit such large sizes of people in such a short manner of time. Research Kit, in conjunction with Apple’s wearables (which are becoming increasingly more sophisticated in biometric monitoring ), will allow for more and more types of these broad-based studies.
Of the 400,000 participants, about 2,000 (0.5%) received a notification that the Watch had detected aFib. Those 2,000 people were then issued a BioTel heart patch and instructed to wear it for two weeks, to further monitor the patient. Stanford Medicine researchers found that 84% of the 2,000 people were confirmed to have aFib.
As Chrissy mentions in her piece, cardiologists have had concerns with the efficacy of the Apple Watch and the potential for false positives. While the 84% accuracy rate might be considered too low for some cardiologists to alleviate their concerns, it should be noted that some of the aFib detected by the Apple Watch was early stage and potentially happened too sporadically to be detected by the BioTel patch. That would indicate that the Apple Watch may have been detecting early stage aFib that was not registered by the BioTel patch, implying that the Apple Watch was actually be more accurate in its detection of aFib than the 84% cited.
I’m sure this won’t be the last study around this, so we’ll have to wait for more research to come out to really determine the efficacy of the Apple Watch and its ECG in detecting aFib.
Hearing Aids and Biometric Monitoring
One of the most interesting findings in the study was that adults aged 65 and older had a higher propensity to aFib. More than 3% of participants aged 65+ received notifications from their Watch, which adds even more evidence to the widely understood notion that older adults are at higher risk for health issues like aFib.
This is exactly why I think it’s so important to point out the ways in which hearing aids are becoming biometric data collection tools in their own right. Starkey’s Livio AI comes embedded with inertial sensors and a PPG-monitor allowing for various metrics to be collected, including heart rate. This is part of a broader trend where biometric sensors are becoming increasingly miniaturized, allowing for the sensors to be embedded in smaller and smaller wearable devices. While there’s yet to be a hearing aid outfit with an ECG monitor, it’s possible that we’re heading that direction.
This gets at one of the core themes of Future Ear: the idea that one of the emerging use cases for hearing aids will be preventative health via the biometric sensors embedded on the devices. As we’re already starting to see with studies like Apple’s Heart Study, there are a number of different health issues that users can be notified of as they’re detected by the person’s wearable device.
Considering that many of said health issues tend to slant higher with our aging population, coupled with the fact that old age tends to be the number one indicator of hearing loss, a hearing aid that functions both as an amplifier and a tool to alert one to potential health risks is an extremely compelling device. Especially so if the number of health risks that the device can register continues to increase, along with the efficacy of the biometric sensors improving over time.
-Thanks for Reading-