Tech

Study finds Apple Watch actually can assess some heart conditions

Remote monitoring of patients could free up doctors' time and give them more information to evaluate.

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Researchers at Stanford University have published a new study suggesting that doctors can accurately assess a patient’s heart condition using sensor data collected from an iPhone and an Apple Watch. Such a method would free up doctors’ time while simultaneously allowing them to collect more information on their patients.

Close enough to in-person testing — The study saw 110 patients given an iPhone 7 and an Apple Watch with a VascTrac research app installed. The aim was to compare a six-minute, in-clinic walking test with one conducted at home. The VascTrac app collected data such as step counts and heart rate to determine a patient’s frailty. If a person walks less than 300 meters in the six-minute test they’re considered frail.

Ultimately what researchers found is that the at-home test was an accurate predictor of in-clinic test results. Once configured, the Apple Watch is very good at tracking steps with specificity; researchers at Stanford were even able to track how many steps a patient took without stopping for more than a minute. “This finding suggests that frailty and functional capacity could be monitored and evaluated remotely in patients with cardiovascular disease, enabling after and higher resolution monitoring of patients.”

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Remote monitoring could free up time for doctors who don’t have to fill their schedules with as many time-consuming check-ups, and patients could conduct tests from home where they’re apt to be less nervous about their performance. And many people simply miss their appointments because life gets in the way, but regular monitoring of people with cardiovascular disease is important to catch problems before they become life-threatening. Remote tests at scheduled intervals could address that issue.

Healthcare tech — Telehealth has seen a surge in adoption during the coronavirus pandemic as people avoid hospitals and find that in-person appointments aren’t necessary for all types of care.

The Stanford study was funded in part by Apple, which has invested heavily in healthcare applications for its smartwatch. Billions are spent annually on healthcare in the United States, and tech companies have increasingly sought to capture a slice of that. Other reports over the years have found mixed results using the Apple Watch to detect certain health problems. The technology has continued to improve over the years and likely will continue to do so.