Home » Health on the wrist: how the Apple Watch helps scientific research

Health on the wrist: how the Apple Watch helps scientific research

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Health on the wrist: how the Apple Watch helps scientific research

Smartphones and smartwatches have become small centers for the management of physical activity, well-being and health. It is true for all platforms but it is particularly true for Apple, which for years has focused on the Apple Watch-iPhone combination and which this fall, with the updates of the operating systems, will introduce several new functions, bringing to 17 the areas of health and well-being. monitored, with over 150 different indicators. The Health platform is one of the first successful products of the post-Steve Jobs era designed and desired by Tim Cook, who is personally a sportsman with a very active life. And now, eight years after its debut, Apple has released a report (pdf in English) where he explains the results achieved so far and the future goals.

The investigation

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The searches

A basic kit is available for app developers to create apps that interact with data collected by iPhone and iPad sensors, while for medical research ResearchKit allows institutions and universities to build projects and studies that lead to meaningful discoveries. For users to participate is simple: with a few taps of authorization you can access a special app that allows you to be part of the specific experimentation. Over the years, hundreds of thousands of people have given their contribution: for the heart research conducted in the US alone, there have been more than 400,000 users who have shared their heartbeat anonymously. Results published in Stanford Medicine’s New England Journal of Medicine found that the likelihood of receiving an irregular heartbeat notification is low: 2,161 participants (0.52%) received irregular heartbeat notifications. But, of these, 34% had atrial fibrillation on subsequent ECG patch readings. In detail, the study also reports the case told by Italian Tech of Simone Deriu, a 27-year-old Roman who discovered a potentially lethal atrial fibrillation thanks to the Apple Watch.

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The recent Covid-19 crisis has seen Tim Cook’s company in the front row together with Android to provide assistance and access to basic functions of their devices, always respecting the privacy of users. Among other researches, one involved more than 250,000 people who were studied to understand which movement indicators, recorded with the company’s phone and watch, allow us to assess people’s muscle tone and endurance. In addition to recognizing accidental falls (recording the data of 100 thousand volunteers) and sending an alarm message in twelve thousand cases, thanks to this study, the Apple Health app is able to analyze movements over the course of a year and give indications if the a person’s muscle tone is dropping dangerously. In some cases, these data can help identify early onset of some forms of Parkinson’s.

Still, Apple has carried out a study on hearing: using the microphones of Apple Watch and iPhone, it is possible to build a correlation between the loss of hearing in people and the noise of the environments they frequent. This will allow researchers at the University of Michigan to understand when the noise in a public or work environment is actually dangerous for hearing in the medium term; young people are among the most affected, but 25% of the population is exposed to environmental noises that exceed the limits established by the World Health Organization.


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give it

From a relatively little studied women’s health perspective, Apple has a large-scale body of data available to researchers related to cycle monitoring, environment, behavior and society. This data can be used to learn more about women’s health, their menstrual cycles and their relationship to various health conditions, including polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS, with 20,000 volunteers participating in the study), infertility, osteoporosis and the menopause transition.

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Thanks to the opening of the features and data collected on a voluntary basis, it is then possible to use third-party apps connected to professional and medical devices: in the US there are apps for veterans who have reported trauma, but there are also apps for pregnancy and post-partum, post-operative care, transfusions and many therapies and forms of home help. But, especially in the US and Canada, Apple has also worked to allow doctors and patients to use its tools to exchange information and health data, from personal medical files to basic data collected by iPhone and iPad sensors. It is a way, says the company, to strengthen the doctor-patient relationship. According to Apple, as of April 2022, more than 90% of nurses in the top 20 hospitals in the United States use the iPhone for clinical communication. And in 2020, 83% of U.S. doctors predicted that patient-generated data integrated with care delivery will be standard practice over the next 5-10 years.


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Three rings a day

Finally, Tim Cook’s Apple is committed to providing the technological foundations for a healthier lifestyle: the rings to be completed daily, the challenges with friends, but also a whole series of data (heart rate, electrocardiogram, oxygenation of the blood) that provide useful information for monitoring health. The quantified self, the numbers and the sensors and the algorithms that measure daily activity, are used to ensure that everyone takes their life into their own hands and knows how and where they can improve it. It doesn’t take much: sleep better, stop for a moment, breathe deeply and clear your mind, or just stop sitting in front of the computer and go out for a walk.

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