Stanford Medicine and Apple today have officially launched a research study in which the Apple Watch’s heart rate sensor will be used to collect data on irregular heart rhythms and notify users who may be experiencing atrial fibrillation (AFib).
AFib, the leading cause of stroke, is responsible for approximately 130,000 deaths and 750,000 hospitalizations in the U.S. every year. Many people don’t experience symptoms, so AFib often goes undiagnosed.
To calculate heart rate and rhythm, Apple Watch’s sensor uses green LED lights flashing hundreds of times per second and light-sensitive photodiodes to detect the amount of blood flowing through the wrist. The sensor’s optical design gathers signals from four distinct points on the wrist, and when combined with l software algorithms, Apple Watch isolates heart rhythms from other noise. The Apple Heart Study app uses this technology to identify an irregular heart rhythm, according to an Apple press release.
As part of the study, called Apple Heart Study, if an irregular heart rhythm is identified, participants will receive a notification on their Apple Watch and iPhone, a free consultation with a study doctor and an electrocardiogram (ECG) patch for additional monitoring. The Apple Heart Study app is available in the U.S. App Store to customers who are 22 years or older and have an Apple Watch Series 1 or later.
“Through the Apple Heart Study, Stanford Medicine faculty will explore how technology like Apple Watch’s heart rate sensor can help usher in a new era of proactive healthcare central to our precision health approach,” Lloyd Minor, M.D., Dean of Stanford University School of Medicine, said in a statement. “We’re excited to work with Apple on this breakthrough heart study.”
Apple Chief Operating Officer Jeff Williams told CNBC in an interview, “This might seem like a simple study, but we think this is a really special time. Hopefully we can save a lot of lives." The CNBC report also importantly noted that Apple’s goal is to screen for heart rhythm abnormalities rather than diagnose them. As CNBC health tech reporter Christina Farr pointed out, “Apple made clear that the watch is not on the path to becoming a regulated medical device. But as the watch moves beyond wellness and fitness applications, the company has been working closely with federal regulators and plans to submit the results from the study for review.”