Apple has taken an increasing interest in health and wellness in recent years, and the Apple Watch is at the forefront of its efforts in the field.
The company’s flagship wearable has already been proven to be a potentially life-saving device, as it can detect and alert its wearers of cardio abnormalities. Apple has also positioned it to be a central hub of health and wellness programs, working with corporate sponsors and insurance companies to get the device into the hands of employees and subscribers.
And in November, the Cupertino tech giant launched its Apple Heart Study program — a truly “first-of-its-kind” venture in partnership with Stanford Medicine. Here’s how it works, and how you can sign up for it.
What is the Apple Heart Study?
In basic terms, the Apple Heart Study is a research study. But it is unique in the fact that it focuses on data collected by the Apple Watch.
Using its built-in heart sensors, an Apple Watch can detect its user of irregular heart rhythms and notify them that they may be experiencing atrial fibrillation, a condition that can lead to an increased risk of stroke, heart failure or other cardio complications.
But detecting AFib is only one part of the equation. If an irregular heart rhythm is detected, Apple Heart Study participants will receive a notification on their Apple Watch and iPhone.
They’ll also receive a free consultation with a doctor working on the study, and an electrocardiogram (ECG) patch for additional in-depth monitoring. Apple and Stanford have even recruited other organizations, like medical-device maker BioTelemetry, to provide cardiac monitoring services for the study.
The goal is to explore how wearables and other tech, like the Apple Watch, can help people detect irregular heart rhythms and take proactive steps to receive the health care that they need.
How Does the Apple Watch Detect AFib?
The Apple Watch heart sensor uses green-colored LED lights that flash hundreds of times per second, as well as a suite of light-sensitive photodiodes. Both components are used to detect the amount of blood flowing through a user’s wrist.
The heart sensor is an optical one, and it gathers signals from four distinct points on the wrist. Using this data, along with proprietary algorithms, an Apple Watch can actually isolate irregular heart rhythms from irrelevant noise.
How to Join Apple Heart Study
Thankfully, joining the Apple Heart Study yourself is a fairly easy process. Adults who are 22 years old or older can sign up for the study.
First, you’ll need to figure out if your Apple Watch is compatible. Luckily, any Apple Watch Series 1 or newer is — meaning it’s just original Apple Watch devices that aren’t eligible.
If you do have an eligible Apple Watch, just follow the steps below.
- Download the Apple Heart Study app from the App Store.
- Once it’s downloaded, tap and open the app.
- This is important: read through the What to Expect information carefully. If you’re satisfied, hit Continue.
- Review the Participation Requirements, and if you qualify, tap I meet these requirements.Type in your state, residence and birthday. Tap continue.
- Tap Turn on Notifications, and tap Allow in the window that pops up. This is an important part of the study.
Once the Apple Heart Study app is all set up, it’s just a waiting game. Not everyone that signs up for the study will be used right off the bat — but when the researchers are ready for you, you’ll get a notification on your iPhone and Apple Watch. You can learn about the program in details at the Stanford FAQ site.
Apple’s Other Healthcare Ventures
This isn’t Apple’s first push into the healthcare sphere. Cupertino’s interest in healthcare can be traced back to the release of HealthKit and the Health app in 2014. The Apple Watch only seemed to accelerate the company’s plans.
Later, the company released a set of frameworks, CareKit and ResearchKit, that allow developers to create platforms for health research and general care. Unlike HealthKit, these platforms were aimed at health organizations and care providers.
ResearchKit, for example, has garnered a wealth of insights about conditions ranging from autism and Parkinson’s. Since the data is crowd-sourced, Apple says that research at this pace and scale has never been done before.
The company also runs a top-secret fitness lab where, in its own words, it has collected more exercise and activity data and research than literally anyone else in history. And it’s made quite a few health-tech acquisitions, including health-data startup Glimpse in 2016, that can paint a roadmap of where the company is taking its plans.
Combine these endeavors with rumors that Apple had once planned to buy a healthcare clinic startup, and it’s pretty easy to see the company’s ambitions in the sector. While a one-stop-shop Apple health and wellness service is probably years off, it’s become much less of a far-fetched idea as time goes on.
Mike is a freelance journalist from San Diego, California.
While he primarily covers Apple and consumer technology, he has past experience writing about public safety, local government, and education for a variety of publications.
He’s worn quite a few hats in the journalism field, including writer, editor, and news designer.