“Today’s announcement carries our commitment to health even further by engaging with participants on a larger scale than ever before.” — Jeff Williams, Apple’s chief operating officer

At Apple’s special September event earlier this week, the tech titan announced key research initiatives designed to help improve population health. The research builds from data shared by Apple customers using iPhones and Apple Watches. The kicker here is that Apple is empowering consumers with more control over their health data and how they want it to be used — essentially putting the customer in charge.

Following on the heels of the successful and popular Apple Heart Study, this year Apple customers will have the ability to participate in three research studies by downloading the Research app and opting to share their data.[i] Data collected from these studies will be analyzed by key partners in the medical research field, leading healthcare organizations, and academic medical centers. Study participants will have the opportunity to contribute to potential medical discoveries and help create the next generation of innovative health products. Users can contribute to each of the studies in the following ways:

  • Apple Hearing Health. Working with the University of Michigan, Apple is examining factors that impact hearing health. The Apple Hearing Health Study is the first of its kind to collect data over time in order to understand how everyday sound exposure can impact hearing. The study data and results will be shared with the World Health Organization as a contribution toward its Make Listening Safe initiative.
  • Apple Heart and Movement Study. Apple is partnering with Brigham and Women’s Hospital and the American Heart Association; this study will analyze user-generated data such as heart rate and mobility signals, including pace and flights of stairs. This study will help researchers gain insight on how mobility relates to hospitalizations, falls, heart health, and quality of life.
  • Apple Women’s Health Study. Apple is partnering with the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and the National Institutes of Health’s National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences to create the first large-scale, long-term study focused on menstrual cycles and gynecological conditions. Researchers will analyze data contributed by users tracking their menstrual cycles to inform screening and risk assessment of conditions like polycystic ovary syndrome, infertility, osteoporosis, pregnancy, and menopausal transition.

The Whole Is Greater Than The Sum Of Its Parts

By participating in these studies, the collective population can make an impact on helping transform the US healthcare system through:

  • Tackling the cost conundrum. Heart disease and stroke are the leading killers among Americans, leading to almost $200 billion in medical spend each year.[ii] For the heart and mobility study, Apple will join forces with Brigham and Women’s Hospital and the American Heart Association to understand heart rate and how a person’s mobility can relate to hospitalizations, falls, heart health, and quality of life, hopefully leading to improved heart health.
  • Driving improved outcomes for the masses. By better understanding the impacts of noise pollution, the healthcare industry can better prevent chronic disease related to noise and improve outcomes for individuals. For example, exposure to excessive noise can lead to a host of problems: hearing loss, hypertension, ischemic heart disease, and sleep disturbance.[iii]

What Does It Mean?

  • Personalized medicine is becoming more of a reality. With a richer repository of real-world evidence (RWE) and real-world data (RWD), we will have greater insight into the cause and effect of specific medications, lifestyle factors, and other actions on an individual’s health. At a population level, we can make better recommendations for future prescriptions, care plans, and inform future pharmaceutical development.
  • Personal health data will be more easily accessible by the consumer. Apple has made customers the owners and stewards of their data, in a world where most patients must pay per page to get their record printed on paper. Longer-term, this may lead to the personal health record finally becoming a reality. Through the FHIR-based API, customers can already create an aggregated view of their health, including medical and remote monitoring information.
  • Care delivery will be less reactive. Increased connectivity to the medical field has the potential to yield incredible innovation. Beyond improved access to RWE and RWD, this opportunity to contribute to new health discoveries will have a longer-term impact on the way care is delivered. For example, by learning what patterns in mobility lead to a fall or hospitalization, we can intervene early through a virtual care visit and keep the individual out of the emergency room.

Want to learn more about what Apple and other tech titans are working on in healthcare? Check out Jeff Becker’s upcoming reports. Interested in learning more about Apple’s reinvention? Check out James McQuivey’s blog here.

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[i] Source: “Apple announces three groundbreaking health studies,” Apple press release, September 10, 2019 (https://www.apple.com/newsroom/2019/09/apple-announces-three-groundbreaking-health-studies/)

[ii] Source: “Health and Economic Costs of Chronic Diseases,” CDC (https://www.cdc.gov/chronicdisease/about/costs/index.htm)

[iii] Source: Mathias Basner, Wolfgang Babisch, Adrian Davis, Mark Brink, Charlotte Clark, Sabine Janssen, and Prof. Stephen Stansfeld, “Auditory and non-auditory effects of noise on health,” The Lancet, October 30, 2013 (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3988259/)